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Thursday, February 25, 2016, 09:29

Tsang outlines ‘most humanistic budget’

By Timothy Chui
Tsang outlines ‘most humanistic budget’
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah (center left), Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Ceajer Chan Ka-keung (center right) and other senior officials hold booklets of the 2016-17 Budget during a press conference at Central Government Offices in Tamar on Feb 24, 2016. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s more than HK$38.8 billion in budget relief seeks to remedy the fallout from political unrest while rallying society to search for solutions, experts said. One called it “the most humanistic budget” in recent memory.

Tsang discussed the interplay of politics and the economy in the preamble of his ninth budget address as financial chief. He forecasted further economic and political pain as the city readies for a weekend Legislative Council by-election and the legislature’s general election in six months’ time.

Tsang, who has long advocated non-violent expression of ideas, said ongoing conflicts had contributed to the fragility of the economy.

He said it was unfair to say responsibility for recent events lay with a single person – a tactic the opposition pursues in trying to blame the unrest on the Chief Executive.

Tsang said everyone in society was responsible for the current state of Hong Kong; social conflicts left unchecked would usher in greater chaos, condemning generations to a future rife with hatred.

City University of Hong Kong political analyst James Sung Lap-kung said Tsang’s budget speech was a clear attempt to ease tensions since the Chinese New Year riot in Mong Kok, while showing the administration understood the anxiety and aspirations of mainstream society.

Tsang highlighted how unrest threatened Hong Kong’s economic survival and that society had to help find a way to resolve recent conflicts.

Sung called it the most humanistic budget in recent memory. Tsang used the start and finish of his speech to convey concern and discuss the administration’s role in promoting a harmonious society.

Hong Kong was at a turning point, with Tsang saying, “tension and turbulence are mounting.”

Foreshadowing an opposition camp filibuster of his budget, Tsang said, “Political disputes are spreading both inside and outside the (Legislative) Council chambers, setting off a spiral of intensifying struggle between rival factions. Calm and rational discussions no longer have a place in this council. There is not even room for dialogue in our society.”

Many measures announced will benefit the grassroots and middle-class families. Sung added that these measures would trickle down to disaffected youths who had cast their lot in with radical forces. They would help them to secure household incomes while temporarily relieving financial burdens.

“This year the speech is especially family-oriented,” Sung said. He added the administration’s attempts to help families were a good place to start to heal rifts in society.

Strategic sector support, including the innovation, creativity and startup sectors, as well as urgent measures for a faltering tourism sector hard hit by unrest, is expected to benefit millions of middle-class and grassroots workers, while Tsang said annual GDP growth might be nearly halved from last year’s 2.4 percent.

Head of the Department of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education Sonny Lo Shiu-hing said it was a difficult time politically and economically to propose a budget. He said he supported the government’s fiscally cautious, ad hoc, incremental and gradual budget proposals.

Tsang outlines ‘most humanistic budget’

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