Pro-democracy lawmakers have criticised Financial Secretary Paul Chan for failing to provide cash handouts to Hongkongers and for “perpetuating the wealth gap” in his latest budget speech.

Chan gave his second budget speech — and his first under the Carrie Lam administration — on Wednesday morning. Amid the announcement of a HK$138 billion surplus, a number of tax rebates were announced, with salaries tax, tax under personal assessment, and profits tax all reduced by 75 per cent in 2017-18.

Paul Chan
Paul Chan. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

People Power’s Ray Chan gave the budget speech a score of zero, saying that many political parties were in favour of cash handouts for all, as opposed to tax rebates.

“Paul Chan calls this ‘sharing the fruits of success’… but we see that many people are unable to share these fruits of success,” Ray Chan said at a press conference on Wednesday.

He said that tax rebates were unfair and create polarisation in that they benefit those who are at the bottom as well as rich property owners.

Ray Chan added that those who were living on minimum wage and pay little tax to begin with will not benefit at all from the budget speech: “This will only increase frustration in society… young people also do not get anything.”

budget 2018 paul chan protest
Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung also said the plan did not receive a pass mark and said that he will vote against the budget speech when it arrives at the legislature for approval.

Leung said that the speech “perpetuated the wealth gap,” and that it did not care for the needs of the grassroots. He also said that the government did not propose any solutions to the issue of an ageing population.

“As a member of the working class, there’s no good news at all,” Leung said.

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The Society for Community Organization said in a statement on Wednesday that, aside from one-off relief measures, the budget failed to greatly increase the quantity and quality of social welfare services. It said it did not improve the ratio of social workers to those recovering from mental illnesses, nor boost the number of social workers at family service centres.

Avery Ng budget 2018 paul chan protest
Pro-democracy activist Avery Ng protests ahead of Wednesday’s budget. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok said he welcomed the budget’s emphasis on IT, but – in a statement on Wednesday – expressed disappointment over the “inadequate support to assist children from underprivileged families in digital learning…”

Tam Tak-chi budget 2018 paul chan protest
Tam Tak-chi. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Ahead of the budget, around 100 protesters gathered at the rear of the legislature demanding the government spend less on infrastructure and distribute more to the poor.

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According to AFP, a statement on pro-democracy activist Lau Siu-Lai’s Facebook page read: “Carrie Lam and (Paul Chan) are still returning wealth to the wealthy while ignoring the general public who are living in misery. Shameful!”

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.