Consumption vouchers are again on the minds of many in the city, as the government considers a third round of handouts meant to stimulate the economy and support Hongkongers reeling from the financial burden of the pandemic. Finance minister Paul Chan Mo-po said the administration had yet to decide whether more vouchers would be part of the relief and stimulus measures to be unveiled in his February 22 budget speech. Authorities must carefully consider if a repeat of such an exercise is the right move. Over the past two years, the government has handed out HK$102.4 billion under the programme. Eligible residents were given HK$5,000 in 2021 and double that amount under a second round last year. Those eligible could spend the money freely, but only through the city’s leading electronic payment systems. One side benefit of the e-vouchers was a widening of the use of digital payment systems. However, more research is needed to determine whether the shift is temporary or if more must be done to help the city catch up with the adoption of e-payments in other markets, including on the mainland. Consumption vouchers again for Hong Kong? Won’t work, say experts Measures to put more money into the hands of consumers have had a positive impact during the pandemic, especially for lower-income individuals. In Hong Kong, vouchers provided a much-needed boost to consumers and retailers. It is reasonable to expect they could help again. But retail industry officials question whether the impact of vouchers is waning. They reported little or no growth in the sector as of November last year, only three months after the second round was issued. Some economists suggest skipping or reducing the size of vouchers next time. One expert said the scheme was little more than “icing on the cake” in terms of boosting growth, and targeted measures to support needy families would be more cost-effective. It is good that Chan appears to be listening to the range of views on the way forward. He has pledged to not drastically roll back current measures and to consider other relief initiatives, including tax breaks for middle-class families who hire foreign domestic workers. But he also must address the city’s budget deficit, which has grown amid the pandemic fight and economic hard times. The deficit could exceed HK$100 billion in the current financial year, nearly double what he estimated in his last budget speech. Calls for such sweeteners must not drown out arguments for other options. If vouchers end up in the next budget, Hongkongers who are better off should consider donating theirs to help others. The city is on the road to pandemic recovery. It is essential that everyone is on board for the ride.