The budget to be delivered by Paul Chan Mo-po tomorrow will be one of the most challenging. It has to take into account the economic hardships facing the city, the government’s dwindling reserves and uncertainties arising from the global environment. That also makes managing public expectations difficult, especially amid growing calls for the finance chief to dig deeper into public coffers. While generous handouts are understandably out of the question in light of a record deficit arising from a series of rescue packages over the year, there is still room for more targeted relief for the needy. Can Hong Kong’s budget meet tall order of saving needy and economy? Hong Kong is fortunate to still have quite large reserves. But amid all the uncertainties, the city needs to be able to fall back on them to defend its standing as the region’s financial hub against sudden fluctuations in the capital markets. The amount of money left to the government to spend on welfare is not as big as many think. At this critical juncture, the government has to strike a balance between meeting genuine need while keeping enough ammunition to safeguard the city’s financial position. So relief measures need to be precisely focused. Apart from resisting generous cash handouts, the government needs to be wary of committing to recurring expenditure that can come back to bite us. The financial secretary has already sounded the alarm over an expected record budget deficit of more than HK$300 billion in the year ending March, partly attributable to a 25 per cent increase in recurrent spending over the past three years. Opinion: Paul Chan’s budget must dish up a better future for Hong Kong A government that has already stepped in to save Cathay Pacific Airways and Ocean Park needs to be mindful that it may yet be called on again to stand behind businesses or institutions that are not just too big to fail, but too important to Hong Kong. So this is going to be one of the most difficult budgets for Hong Kong – a balancing act between saving the economy and helping the needy. On one hand the government should target sectors in real need for help and resist calls for a general handout that can be expected until the eleventh hour. On the other, society at large should be more understanding of the government’s dilemma and not expect handouts for which we may have to pay a heavy price in future.