A series of one-off handouts in this year’s budget is a shambolic way of reviving a battered economy and providing real support to the many people whose livelihoods have been battered by the double whammy of disruption during the protest movement and the impact of this scary coronavirus.

However putting HK$10,000 into the hands of every citizen is, lamentably, better than keeping the money in the hands of the terminally incompetent people who are supposed to be the Hong Kong government. Given their track record, they will fritter away public money on white elephant projects and doomed schemes that predictably end up being quietly shelved.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Paul Chan, the amiable but largely clueless Financial Secretary, does not even pretend to have a strategy of any kind. Indeed it is now clear that without intense political pressure, he would not even have been prepared to give the citizen’s own money back to them as he really has no concept of the degree to which hardship is being inflicted around Hong Kong. The view from a speeding chauffeur-driven limousine tends not to embrace such distasteful sights.

The reality is that there are people here who cannot afford to purchase the elementary equipment providing a modicum of protection from the Covid-19 virus. There are also people earning rather less than the average monthly wage of some HK$17,000. Many of them are now taking no paid leave, while others have been laid off. Earnings of this order are far too modest to leave room for deep savings. With nothing coming through the door, desperate times beckon for this large group of people. And, even assuming that they could go back to work, what are they to do with their kids, who cannot go to school and can hardly be left home alone?

The government, sensing the urgency of the situation, has declared that it will do absolutely nothing to help in the short-term but might just manage to dish out some cash by the end of the summer, which, by remarkable coincidence, will be just before the Legco elections. The democrats’ proposal to fast track the HK$10,000 payment and separate it from other more controversial items in the budget has been flatly ruled out. And we have already seen the pro-China camp dashing around making groundless accusations of pro-democrat filibustering to prevent cash relief. This means that that come election time they will be taking credit for whatever the government ends up handing out.

Mind you, given this government’s track record for not being able to organise a piss-up in a brewery, as witnessed by the last shambles involving a HK$4,000 handout to the seriously poor, there is always a chance that the distribution timetable will slip and that chaos will surround its execution.

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

Meanwhile, in a shameless display of the worst kind of small-town politics, the pro-China parties are planning to make as much money for themselves as they can by setting up government-sponsored production lines for face masks, which will yield an unseemly profit.

While all that’s going on the government has just announced that it will be bunging hundreds of millions of dollars to Chinese state construction companies to build quarantine centres. All normal tendering procedures have been thrown out of the window on grounds of urgency, which would be fair enough it was not so blatant that these contracts are being allocated on the basis of politics. Competence is playing no role here.

As ever, in any budget, there are always winners and losers and it comes as no surprise to learn that the biggest winner this time around is the police force which is being allocated a mouth-watering sum of HK$85 billion for the coming financial year, a 25 per cent boost. To put this figure in perspective it is ten times more than has been allocated to the housing department. But housing needs are clearly far less important than the shiny weaponry and more manpower for the Chief Executive in Name Only’s (CENO)’s Pretorian guard, who are all that stand between her and the wrath of the people.

When you have a popularity rating of just above 9 per cent there is not a whole lot further for the CENO to slide in terms of public esteem. But, then again, no one could possibly have imaged that Carrie Lam could be more unpopular than her predecessor, Leung Chun-yin.

Now, according to a recent report in the Apple Daily newspaper, Ms Lam has taken to whinging to her bosses in Beijing about the lack of support she’s getting from the pro-China camp in general and members of her own advisory body, Exco, in particular. Let’s see how that works out and whether the bosses will finally get round to putting the CENO and her team of waxworks out of their misery.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent. Vines is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium and Market Panic and most recently, Food Gurus. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse.