Hong Kong’s democrats have said that the 2020 budget’s showpiece HK$10,000 handout has diverted Hongkongers’ attention from long-term issues facing marginalised groups. Finance chief Paul Chan’s raft of sweeteners announced on Wednesday also overshadowed an almost 25 per cent increase in the police force budget, opposition lawmakers said.

The Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung told HKFP that the instant happiness of a cash handout does nothing to tackle systemic injustice: “One-off measures totalling to HK$120 billion largely benefit tycoons and big corporations,” adding that self-employed workers remain neglected.

Fernando Cheung. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Cheung said grassroots people were the biggest losers in the budget as there had been a rise in layoffs, despite Chan claiming his measures were about “supporting enterprises [and] safeguarding jobs.” Social welfare policies such as the provision of 3,000 additional home care service plans for the elderly fell short of satisfying the high demand, Cheung said.

The legislator suggested a HK$30 billion unemployment assistance fund to help low-income families with rent. He also presented a pie chart showing that Chan’s HK$71.2 billion cash handout made up 57 per cent of the total one-off relief measures: “Whilst only 9 per cent went to the grassroots who suffered the most in difficult times.”

See also: HK$10,000 cash handouts for all permanent residents over 18

Cheung was among several democrats who questioned the budget increase for the police, in light of the recent protests: “The police force is the biggest winner… [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam wants to continue governing the city with the police force.”

Civic Party chairperson Alvin Yeung echoed the concern: “A HK$42,647,000 increase in expenditure for ‘specialised crowd management vehicles’? Have we not witnessed enough police brutality?”

Lawmakers Shiu Ka-chun and Fernando Cheung holding a placard that says, “Police brutality is the biggest winner.” Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Infrastructure spending

Lawmaker Tanya Chan said her Civic Party strongly opposed the HK$600 billion Lantau Tomorrow Vision project, which involves the construction of an artificial island for a housing development: “Most government infrastructure such as the high-speed rail link ended up tremendously over budget… The Lantau project would be a huge burden upon Hong Kong’s fiscal reserve.”

Meanwhile, her party colleague Jeremy Tam said the government had taken money from citizens to fund the third runway at the airport, yet had put little thought into assisting the aviation business: “The industry suffered heavily with [Hong Kong Airlines] just laying off 400 employees – and yet not a single cent is earmarked for a sector in deep water.” 

Democrats Tanya Chan, Jeremy Tam, Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Reporters also grilled the democrats on whether they would try and delay the passing of the budget measures by filibustering at the legislature.

“The cash handout could be scrutinised and approved by the Finance Committee independently from the budget,” said Yeung, whilst Tanya Chan added the handout could have been passed last week if it had been included in the coronavirus relief package.

Democrats Ray Chan, Leung Yiu-chung, Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Democrat Eddie Chu said the budget seemed obsolete in view of the current sociopolitical dynamics as China is shunned over the coronavirus: “I had a feeling that Paul Chan penned the budget three months ago… As the world is shaken by the epidemic, he hinges on the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Greater Bay Area, and the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Pre-budget protest

Shortly before Paul Chan’s budget speech, democrats and other activists rallied outside the Legislative Council Complex.

Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Pro-democracy activist Jimmy Sham called for handout schemes to be widened: “We propose that even those under 18 years old should be granted HK$10,000,” he said, as the economic devastation is territory-wide and affected all members of society.

Members of the Labour Party and League of Social Democrats told the press that people with disabilities were the most vulnerable to economic recessions and suggested setting up a fund for them: “Save people prior to the economy,” they chanted.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.