Public unhappiness with the recently announced budget continued unabated on Tuesday, as the latest poll showed over half – 54 per cent – of respondents were dissatisfied with it.
In addition, the 500 people surveyed by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme gave the budget 42.8 marks out of 100, meaning that satisfaction with the government’s financial strategy plunged to a seven-year low.
After announcing a record surplus of HK$138 billion (US$17.7 billion) last Wednesday, finance chief Paul Chan Mo-po was accused of offering more concessions to the rich with massive tax breaks but neglecting the poor, even though he handed out larger allowances for at least 2 million old and disabled Hongkongers.
But others – who do not pay taxes or receive welfare assistance – had fallen through the cracks, lawmakers insisted, with several across the political spectrum suggesting they might veto the budget in the Legislative Council, if Chan did not agree to universal cash handouts.
Chan maintained that doling out cash to all was not part of this administration’s fiscal strategy but after his budget in 2011 was panned, then finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah eventually bowed to pressure and dished out HK$6,000 to all permanent residents.
Tsang’s plan to put HK$24 billion of the HK$71 billion surplus directly into workers’ Mandatory Provident Fund accounts – through one-off payments of HK$6,000 – was roundly scorned and also drew threats of a Legco veto. The handouts ultimately cost the government HK$40 billion.
On Monday, veteran politician Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who is a member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet, suggested her New People’s Party member in Legco might vote against the budget.
But other pro-establishment lawmakers on Tuesday said they would not take such action.
Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: “If we voted against the budget, the government’s operations would be brought to a halt and affect more citizens. But we will definitely chase for remedies from the government.”
The Federation of Trade Unions had not decided on its voting stance but lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen said Ip’s comments had turned up the heat on the government.
“I believe it is already under pressure and will announce ways to plug the loopholes,” she said.
Over the weekend, Chan and welfare chief Dr Law Chi-kwong said those who missed out on benefits might get help from a care fund.
After Chan concluded his budget address last Wednesday, HKU’s public opinion programme snap poll recorded a 41 per cent dissatisfaction rate and a 26 per cent satisfaction rate – the lowest in four years. The satisfaction rate reflected responses of “quite satisfied” and “satisfied”, with the remaining three options being “half-half”, “quite dissatisfied” and “dissatisfied”.
The latest poll collected responses from one to two days later, where the dissatisfaction rate shot up, and the satisfaction rate climbed slightly to 31 per cent.