Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang has said the government should give cash handouts to the public as part of next Wednesday’s annual budget, since Hong Kong is expected to report a huge surplus.

The veteran pro-Beijing figure wrote in his AM730 newspaper column that the use of funds in improving services and investing in the future is decided in Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s policy address. But he said that, if the government has already secured funds for her plans, the extra money could be used to increase government spending, saved as fiscal reserves or used for public cash handouts.

“It is feasible to implement some new measures outside the scope of the policy address,” Tsang wrote, suggesting that Financial Secretary Paul Chan had the freedom to choose what to do with the surplus, instead of being completely led by Lam’s plans.

Jasper Tsang. Photo: Cloud.

Tsang said conducting cash handouts was the best choice: “Cash handouts are not related to any priority of policies – it can ensure that everybody benefits. Meanwhile, poorer families relatively get more benefits, how is it not the best way to give back to the public?”

Tsang rejected the idea that extra funds could be used for building facilities such as hospitals, care homes and community halls: “If they are necessary and feasible, the construction projects would already have been in the government’s plans.”

In 2011, then-financial secretary John Tsang launched a scheme whereby permanent residents aged over 18 could receive a one-off HK$6,000 payment. The plan was devised following criticism of his original proposal which involved injecting the sum into Hongkonger’s Mandatory Provident Fund pension accounts. The programme – which was not means tested – cost around HK$36 billion.

But Paul Chan has said he does not agree with Macau-government-style cashback schemes. Macau residents are set to receive around HK$9,000 this year – the eleventh public handout since 2008.

Divide among democrats

The pro-democracy camp remains divided over whether to conduct cash handouts.

People Power lawmaker Ray Chan has supported cash handouts for years: “Now even the pro-Beijing camp had to admit that when the treasury is flooded with money, full-scale cash handouts are more reasonable, effective and fair compared to selectively giving benefits.”

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“It is sad that some democrats are stuck with the wrong ideas and oppose cash handouts,” Chan said.

Accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung and legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok have both opposed cash handouts. They said they believed it was short-sighted and result in high administration fees. They suggested the extra funds should be spent on health care, education and welfare.

Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun suggested the government should give HK$3,500 each month to elderly people over 65, and invest the surplus in funds such as the Community Care Fund.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.