Hong Kong’s “all-patriots” legislature has approved the government’s budget bill by an overwhelming majority, with only one abstained vote from non-pro-establishment lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen, who said the expenditure cut on social welfare was “unacceptable.”

Paul Chan
Financial Secretary Paul Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Legislative Council (LegCo) passed the Appropriation Bill 2022 on Wednesday with 87 votes for, zero votes against and one abstention. The government asked for HK$697.8 billion from the general revenue to fund its services from April 1 this year to March 21, 2023.

Speaking at LegCo, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the current government had around HK$950 billion reserves when it assumed governance in July 2017. The administration saw more than HK$200 billion deficit under Chief Executive Carrie Lam, he said, adding the that city’s economy suffered from social unrest and was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paul Chan Legislative Council chamber
Financial Secretary Paul Chan leaves the Legislative Council Chamber on May 4, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

But Chan estimated the city would still have around HK$950 billion in fiscal reserves when the current government term ends in June, and the amount would gradually rise to HK$1 trillion in the coming five years, which is equivalent to 16 months of government expenditure.

“Despite these serious challenges, we have been working hard to overcome the difficulties… we do our best to stabilise the economy and safeguard livelihoods, and go through the hard times with everyone,” Chan told reporters after the bill was approved.

Paul Chan budget
Photo: Gov.hk

The financial minister said on Wednesday that the government was actively preparing for the second phase of HK$5,000 consumption voucher handouts, which is set to open for registration around the middle of the year and to be doled out over the summer.

Chan delivered the last budget of his current term in February, when he announced sweeteners including HK$10,000 consumption vouchers, one-off tax cuts and electricity subsidies. He also pledged to pour more than HK$54 billion into anti-epidemic work, as well as set aside at least HK$100 billion for the Northern Metropolis development plan, which does not yet have a price tag.

Paul Chan
Financial Secretary Paul Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The only abstained vote came from social welfare constituency lawmaker Tik, who once described himself as “1:89” to indicate he was the only non-pro-establishment legislator in the revamped LegCo.

After the bill was passed, Tik told the press that it was a “pity” that he could not back the last budget bill put forward by Chan in his current term. The chairman of the moderate party Third Side pointed to the 1 per cent reduction in government spending on social welfare which amounted to around HK$200 million, saying such a cut would severely affect the services provided by the sector.

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“To the government, this expenditure insignificant, but for the social welfare sector, it concerns 500 social workers,” Tik said.

“[I]t is not a one-time cut, it is a continuous cut. Therefore under such circumstances, I cannot support this budget. Our sector and our service users cannot accept [this],” he added.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.