The government's intervention in markets is only a temporary measure to "restore balance" to weak sectors, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday. Speaking at a forum on "welfare populism", Tsang said: "We are still firm believers in the market, and it is only when the market begins to fail that, in selected areas, we introduce intervention to help restore the balance. Once balance has been restored, we will return to the status quo." The finance chief's remarks were in response to earlier speakers who raised doubts about current government measures to rein in the property market, including new stamp duties. The forum was co-organised by the Lion Rock Institute, a local think tank dedicated to free-market principles. Tsang's speech continued the recent official line criticising some lawmakers' continued attempts to block a proposed old-age living allowance. "Politicians worldwide are often tempted to introduce welfare measures to score short-term kudos, but the costs often only become evident in future," he said. Pan-democrats and trade unionists have been pressing for the government to waive a means test for its proposed allowance of HK$2,200 a month and to make it available to all Hongkongers aged 65 and above. Tsang said: "Some members of the legislature even go as far as suggesting the allowance should be the first step to a universal retirement-protection scheme for all, which is another question altogether, and which ... is really a slippery slope on which to embark for us." Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, chairman of the Legislative Council's finance committee, said he was not optimistic the proposal could be put to a vote in tomorrow's session, thanks to a new threat of a filibuster. At the centre of attention is the League of Social Democrats' "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who said he had prepared more than 1,000 amendments. Leung vowed to carry out the filibuster without support from his pan-democratic allies, if needed. Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan hinted it would not try to delay the proposal.