The city’s financial secretary has insisted that there is currently “no room” to scrap the government’s cooling measures on property prices, as many still find it difficult to afford homes.
on a joint radio phone-in programme on Thursday morning, John Tsang Chun-wah also faced criticism from callers upset about the “insufficient” relief measures he dished out during his budget speech on Wednesday. Tsang explained that the government has been trying to help the less well off by increasing welfare spending.
Despite the complaints, there was some praise for the budget, with one caller giving the finance chief a thumbs-up for his reconciliatory approach during the speech.
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According to official statistics, property prices in Hong Kong decreased by about 9 per cent in the last few months of 2015, raising questions about whether the government’s stamp duty measures should be relieved.
A woman caller, surnamed Wong, said: “Mr Tsang, I hope you can scrap the stamp duty measure which stops people from reselling flats within three to five years … because I want to sell mine and buy another that is more suitable, but I don’t know when can I do so.”
Tsang said: “There is absolutely no room to do so at this stage … property prices dropped by 9 per cent, but is that a trend? We don’t know.”
Referring to statistics on mortgage payments, Tsang said: “The financial burden for people to own a home has increased from 46 per cent to 62 per cent [of their monthly expenditure] – this is a big difference … The market is also volatile right now, and people who want to buy property should be cautious.”
Ms Cheung, a public housing tenant, called to express her “disappointment” that Tsang had not waived any rent for people like her this year.
“I think you did not think of us, because you are only waiving rates for homeowners and the middle class,” Cheung said.
Tsang explained that the government’s total expenditure will increase by 14 per cent this year, totaling HK$487 billion, and nearly a fifth of that will be spent on welfare.
“What we are doing is exactly the redistribution of resources,” he said.
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Tsang’s budget speech on Wednesday was regarded as a “reconciliatory” one as he called on Hongkongers to overcome feelings of suffocation and helplessness over confrontations and conflict with “love for the city”.
Another caller, Mrs Mok, phoned in and praised Tsang.
She said his speech was “appropriate”, and went on to criticise those who “only blame society” for their own “disobedience”.
Tsang said in response that the government has been trying to solve social problems “gradually”.