Hong Kong people’s net satisfaction rate with the budget dropped to -36 per cent – the lowest since the handover – according to a public survey. The electronic spending coupons announced in Wednesday’s 2021 budget were also slammed as “impractical” by citizens.

According to the latest poll conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), only 20 per cent of the 859 respondents said they were satisfied with finance chief Paul Chan’s budget.

Paul Chan budget
Photo: Gov.hk

The survey showed that 56 per cent of the respondents were dissatisfied, meaning that the budget had a net satisfaction rate of -36 per cent, the lowest since the HKPORI started the survey in 1998.

Surveyed citizens gave the budget a score of 36.4, dropping from last year’s 54.1. Chan’s net support rate also dropped slightly from -21 per cent to -24 per cent.

The city’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, recording a deficit of HK$257.6 billion in the current fiscal year, with the economy shrinking by 6.1 per cent.

Electronic spending coupons

In addition to a series of tax deductions and subsidies to businesses and individuals, the government plans to distribute HK$5,000 electronic spending coupons to all adult residents.

In a joint radio broadcast on Thursday, Chan said that the proposed coupons will not be usable for transport expenses, utilities fees, or rent. Citizens who called in during the radio show slammed the measure as “impractical.”

“I think the your plan is quite ‘off-the-ground’ [disconnected with reality],” said a Mr Leung. “First of all, you halved subsidies to people living in public housing, but these are the people who need cash.”

“I suggest that you transfer the money in five phases to the bank accounts of these people, this is the most convenient way, and it can let elderly people and disadvantaged groups to get the money.”

Another caller, Ms Wong, told the financial chief to be more practical and give cash handouts instead.

joint radio broadcast
A joint radio broadcast for the public to call in about the Budget 2021. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“You said that the coupons will only be ready in July, and that they can’t be used for paying rent or utilities fees,” said Wong. “Nowadays a lot of Hong Kong citizens are unemployed and really need money, and you’re telling them to go consume when they can’t even afford food.”

“Also, a lot of shops may not have Octopus, and elderly people might not know how to use [electronic payments]. We will starve to death before we get to July.”

Many other callers also expressed their concern over the practicality of the electronic spending coupons, as some said that they would rather save up HK$1,000 per month instead of spending it.

Government backed loan

Apart from the spending coupons, the government will also provide a 100 per cent government guaranteed loan scheme to unemployed people for up to HK$80,000. However, some citizens said that people who need the loan most will not qualify in the first place.

Mr. Ip, who called the radio show on Thursday, told Chan that banks will not approve loans for people with immense economic difficulty.

“I’m not sure if you know, but a lot of people with actual needs cannot get the loan,” said Ip. “Because you’re doing it through banks, you can imagine, when people already have economic problems, the banks won’t even look at your application.”

covid covid-19 coronavirus face masks streets central
Photo: Kaiser/HKFP.

Some other people were also concerned about people’s abilities to repay the loan. Mr. So, who told Chan that he has relatives who are unemployed, said that he was worried that people would not be able to repay it as the economy is unlikely to recover entirely any time soon.

“As people have to start repaying the interest in the first month they received the loan, they might not be able to get the full HK$80,000,” said So. “And we know that we might not be able beat the pandemic this year or even the next year, and the economy may not recover that soon.”

“And the unemployed people have to repay the interest in the first year, plus the principal in the second year – they might not have the ability to repay the loan. In this case, are you going to chase after them or just let them not pay?”

According to the government’s plan, the loans will carry a fixed interest rate of one per cent but applicants would only have to repay the interest in the first year, with the principal repaid during a period of up to five years.

Those who repay the full amount on time will be reimbursed for the interest they paid.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.