The financial secretary on Wednesday called on Hongkongers to overcome feelings of suffocation and helplessness over the tiresome confrontations and conflict in society with “love for the city” as he dished
Unveiling his ninth budget before a deeply divided Legislative Council, John Tsang Chun-wah offered sweeteners for almost everyone to boost morale, but still fell short of proposing comprehensive, longer-term solutions to the city’s economic problems.
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He also revealed a surplus of HK$30 billion for the 2015-16 financial year, which was far lower than market expectations, but did not include the HK$45 billion injected into an existing fund for building homes.
The speech was significant in that it was loaded with political and emotional messages of conciliation. John Tsang Chun-wah urged Hong Kong people to persevere in helping the community to heal gradually.
Some felt the speech read more like a policy address by a possible chief executive candidate than a finance minister’s spending blueprint, but Tsang was evasive when asked if he planned to challenge Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for the top job in next year’s election.
While stating that he was distressed and angry over the Mong Kok riot, he was the only top official who called for a thorough understanding of the mob violence that erupted on the night of February 8.
Taking a moderate tone on tackling increasing polarisation in society in the wake of the Mong Kok clashes, he urged people to return to rationality.
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Avoiding the hawkish line on the riot taken by Leung, the finance chief suggested conflict in recent years was the result of “a raft of intricately-related factors”.
“We need to look squarely at these factors in resolving the differences and, more importantly, we need to have the determination to resolve these conflicts.”
“We must be patient and persevere in helping our community to heal, one step at a time.
“The road trodden by the people of Hong Kong has been thorny and winding,” he said. “With love for Hong Kong, we are able to overcome any challenge ahead of us, no matter how difficult for us.”
Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun, who recently suggested Tsang would make a better chief executive than his boss, said yesterday that Tsang’s remarks “sounded more like a policy address statement or a campaign speech”.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, would not speculate on Tsang’s motive in delivering his political statement, but he expected growing calls in society for the finance minister to run for chief executive.
“Many people prefer Tsang to be the chief executive because they are dissatisfied with Leung’s high-handed approach in handling the aftermath of the Mong Kok disturbances,” he said.
But later, when sidestepping questions about his future plans, Tsang joked: “Unless you offer me a special plan, or else I think I would still be doing the same thing .”
He also insisted his position on the riot was consistent with Leung’s.
His HK$38.8 billion relief package comprised tax rebates, a waiver of government rates for flat owners and suspended licence fees for hotels, restaurants and travel agents.
He also offered an extra one-month payment of social security assistance, old-age and disability allowances.
The one-off relief package would boost the city’s economy by 1.1 percentage point, Tsang said. He estimated economic growth of 1-2 per cent this year, compared with 2.4 per cent last year.
But he scrapped waivers for public housing rents, which sparked criticism from parties across the political spectrum.
Justifying his controversial move, Tsang said public housing tenants had been receiving a considerable amount of government subsidies.
Last year he dished out HK$34 billion in one-off relief measures.
Pan-democratic parties expressed rare praises for the financial secretary’s latest budget, with some describing it as “much more Hongkonger-oriented”, compared with the chief executive’s policy address last month.
Even radical lawmakers were impressed by his acknowledgement of the localist movement.