Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday approved a budget that includes HK$120 billion in stimulus measures aimed at reviving the Covid-stricken economy, with just one vote against in the absence of opposition members.

The bill, which provides for electronic spending vouchers, concessionary loans and other measures, was passed in a legislature with no effective opposition, after all pro-democracy lawmakers quit in November to protest at the ousting of four colleagues by the government.

paul chan at legco
Paul Chan. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The 2021/22 budget passed the legislature after just 36 hours of debate, Stand News reported, in contrast to last year when lawmakers spent over three weeks debating and filibustering.

The budget will provide for HK$5,000 electronic spending coupons for Hongkong residents, increased health spending and tripled funding for police equipment. It will also increase stamp duty on stock trading and raise the registration tax for new vehicles.

Christopher Cheung at legco
Christopher Cheung. Photo: LegCo screenshot.

There were 40 votes in favour from the pro-establishment camp while Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-Tai voted against the bill and financial services sector legislator Christopher Cheung voted to abstain.

“For the budget bill this year, I support it as a whole… but my industry and I cannot accept the increase in stock stamp duty, because it harms Hong Kong’s competitiveness as an international financial centre. It will also affect the desire for mainland capital to flow down to Hong Kong,” Cheung said.

“I regret that the government did not listen to the industry,” he said. “I will vote to abstain.”

Paul Chan budget 2021
Financial Secretary Paul Chan delivers the 2021-22 budget on February 24, 2021. File Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Finance Secretary Paul Chan told reporters this was an “extraordinary” budget “passed at a time when Hong Kong is at a historical low point in the economic cycle.”

Chan did not directly respond to reporters’ questions regarding the speed at which the bill was approved. “I thank legislators for giving us valuable opinions as we studied the budget,” he said.

The government had also consulted legislators from different political parties, Chan said. “We will maintain close contact with legislators and respond to people’s needs.”

Correction 21:11: A previous version of this story stated that the size of the budget was HK$120 billion. The amount only includes the stimulus package in the budget.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.