Hong Kong Budget 2024: Finance chief asks for ‘understanding’ over lack of sweeteners

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Hong Kong Budget 2024: Finance chief asks for ‘understanding’ over lack of sweeteners

Hong Kong’s finance chief has asked for the public’s “understanding” over a lack of sweeteners in this year’s budget, as a lawmaker said he was disappointed that the annual speech did not address societal problems.

Finance Secretary Paul Chan meets the press after delivering the budget for 2024 on February 28, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The Secretary for Finance Paul Chan said in a press conference on Wednesday that given the city’s “financial situation,” authorities were unable to offer more benefits for residents this year.

Hong Kong is expected to log a deficit of HK$101.6 billion in the fiscal year ending in March, almost double Chan’s earlier estimate.

“I hope everyone understands that because of the financial situation, the room that we have to work with is relatively limited,” Chan said in Cantonese in response to a question about tax cuts this year, which will be subject to a ceiling of HK$3,000, half of last year’s.

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For the 2023-24 financial year, the government also offered residents HK$5,000 in consumption vouchers to boost spending. Such handouts were absent from this year’s address.

Chan also said the government would review two transport subsidy schemes that had resulted in significant expenditure over the years. The “HK$2 scheme,” named for the flat amount paid by the elderly and disabled people on buses and other transport modes, as well as the Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme that offers rebates to commuters, could see alterations.

Meanwhile, the government will allocate HK$1.1 billion to boost tourism and “soft sell” Hong Kong as the city struggles to bounce back from years of strict Covid-19 restrictions. Victoria Harbour will play host to monthly pyrotechnics and drone displays, while the nightly sound-and-light show will also undergo a revamp.

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A man pushes a cartload of cardboard in Wan Chai. File Photo: GovHK.

In response to another question about the lack of sweeteners, Chan said that government relief measures should not be relied on for boosting people’s income.

“When the economy is better, residents’ income will also be better. Everyone will be happier and they will have more money to spend,” the finance chief said.

“That’s why we put our resources into boosting economic development… [we] hope that… high-spending tourists will come here, stay overnight, spend money and hang out here,” he said. “That can stimulate our economic [sectors], including sales… and food and beverage.”

‘Sadness’ behind the fireworks

While pro-establishment legislators largely praised the budget, social welfare lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen said he was “disheartened.” The annual speech “had a lot about organising mega events and pyrotechnics shows,” but there was no mention of how the government would address problems in society.

Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen reacts to the budget for 2024 on February 28, 2024.
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen reacts to the budget for 2024 on February 28, 2024. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

At a press conference, Tik – the legislature’s sole non-establishment lawmaker – held up a manipulated photo showing an elderly person pushing a trolley with cardboard, while fireworks lit up the skies in the background.

“Behind the fireworks is sadness,” he said.

Tik also referred to the fact that government departments would see a one per cent cut to recurrent expenditure extended until the 2026-27 fiscal year. The government had earlier announced the cut for two years from the upcoming fiscal year.

“The cut would have a big impact on NGOs and make things very difficult for them,” Tik told HKFP in Cantonese, adding that Chan did not discuss measures relating to caregivers, elderly homes and poverty alleviation.

Lawmaker Junius Ho reacts to the budget for 2024 on February 28, 2024.
Lawmaker Junius Ho reacts to the budget for 2024 on February 28, 2024. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Lawmaker Junius Ho, however, said he did not think that the budget had an “overwhelming lopsided” focus on attracting tourists to Hong Kong while ignoring social welfare.

“I think [attracting more tourists to Hong Kong] is the right thing to be done,” he said in response to a question from HKFP.

Livelihood issues were “already covered” in the budget, Ho said, adding that the government was giving an extra allowance equivalent to half a month’s worth of subsidies to recipients of social security programs.

Hong Kong Budget 2024 in full:

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