Wednesday, 28 February 2007

A Personal Review of the Hong Kong Budget 2007-2008

Not surprisingly, I am not at all happy with the last budget speech presented by Financial Secretary Henry Tang today, despite the generous tax concessions proposed. To me, these significant measures to keep "wealth with the people" are nothing more than short-term sweeties from the benevolent knight to please his subjects before his next coronation four weeks away.

For Sir Donald, this is certainly a very important thing to do so that he can rest assured that his innocent subjects will share his pride and happiness of being crowned the third chief executive of the special administrative region instead of spoiling the party excitement.

Building on Sir Donald's policy address delivered last October, Mr Tang attaches a price tag to almost each of the proposed policies and measures that generally makes good sense. However, for some items such as additional support specifically for pre-school education, victims of domestic violence and promotion of mental health, the additional funding are appallingly small. I remain to be convinced how several millions of dollars would adequately address these issues.

The so-called promotion of creative industries is yet another joke. Obviously Mr Tang is too remote from the local film industry to understand how much it costs to produce a reasonably decent film. The film financing fund of HK$300 million is embarrassingly minor if we remember how much each of the local icons such as Andy Lau, Tony Leung (there are two of them though) charges, at least nominally, for a project. For international stars such as Chow Yun-fat and Jackie Chan, the financing pool is just peanuts.

More importantly, why does the film industry is the only privileged creative industry that receives government support? How about computer and video game programming? How about performing arts such as Cantonese Opera? Aren't these also the essential creative industries that shape the cultural lives of old and young generations of Hong Kong people?

While I understand that Mr Tang may not be in the best position to offer an insightful blueprint on the future of Hong Kong, I still can't help repeating some questions that I think are essential to achieve sustainable development and a truly harmonious community.

The most important question of all is, while we have taken the path of developing into a knowledge-based economy with a heavy focus on the financial sector, either voluntarily or merely by chance, why haven't we taken a step backwards and think about whether this is a good choice or not? Why haven't we thought about how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people who have been excluded from being qualified to work and share the harvest of this lucrative sector?

We have already had too much rhetoric about an ageing population. We have already had too many people abandoned in misery and poverty since our manufacturing sector demised as a result of the opening reforms of our motherland. Yet we also know too well that the financial sector requires the top notch of people and those working in the financial sector of Hong Kong are, let's face it man, mostly expatriates. How to properly help and take care of the abandoned and disadvantaged majority instead of just giving them short-term and limited support such as public transport subsidies or promoting social enterprises is truly a statesman's job. Turning a blind eye to those who have been made victims of earlier policies is simply not the way going forward, if any. We just can't ask them to leave Hong Kong and concentrate on luring the elite and experts, can we?

Unfortunately a person qualified for this job has yet to emerge in Hong Kong.

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