A balanced and thoughtful budget
Updated: 2017-02-23 08:56
Understandably, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has been under pressure to dole out much more sweeties in his maiden budget than his predecessor John Tsang Chun-wah did in previous budgets. This is after market estimates suggested the government would net a fiscal surplus of at least HK$80 billion - a record amount - for the current fiscal year ending in March.
The 2017-18 Budget unveiled on Wednesday might not have pleased all, as has been the case with almost every previous budget. Adhering to the city's long-practiced public finance management philosophy of fiscal prudence, the finance chief has rightly refrained from splashing the cash. But he struck a good balance in meeting the community's short-term needs for welfare, education and healthcare and the city's long-term needs for further economic development.
Expenditure on welfare, education and health for the new fiscal year will amount to a hefty HK$238 billion, taking up almost half of the total government expenditure of HK$491 billion. In keeping up its pronounced principle of governance - "be appropriately proactive" in improving people's livelihoods and developing the economy - the current administration has consistently raised its expenditure on social welfare in the past five years. For the next fiscal year, recurrent expenditure on social welfare alone will reach HK$73 billion, up by 71 percent from the HK$42.8 billion in fiscal year 2012-13. As a result of rising public expenditure on welfare, statistics show poverty in the city has declined significantly over the past few years, bringing the government a step closer to its goal of building a fair and just society with public money.
The finance chief also recognized the community's needs for short-term financial relief. An aggregate of nearly HK$33 billion in relief measures - including reductions in salaries and profits tax, government rent waivers, additional payments in social security assistance, old-age allowances and subsidies - will be handed out in the next fiscal year, benefitting nearly 2 million taxpayers as well as thousands of homeowners, welfare recipients and the elderly.
While attaching great importance to the community's immediate needs, the finance chief did not overlook the need for further economic development. This is crucial to the long-term overall well-being of Hong Kong society, for many of the city's deep-seated problems can be resolved only by expanding and diversifying the economy. Measures and initiatives have been proposed to promote the development of creative industries, financial technologies, and innovation and technology, which have been identified as new engines to power sustainable and diversified economic development.
The government also did not lose sight of the importance of investing for the future and enhancing livability in the city. The finance chief has proposed various measures and ideas to improve the local education system, living environment and infrastructure, as well as to boost land and housing supply.
By paying attention to the immediate needs of the community and seeking ways to build a brighter economic future for the city while refraining from producing a giveaway budget, the financial secretary has taken into account both financial prudence and fiscal responsibility.
(HK Edition 02/23/2017 page4)