Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan announced the first budget of Chief Executive John Lee’s administration on Wednesday. The city is expected to see a HK$140 billion deficit, over double of the original estimation of HK$56.8 billion.

Finance Secretary Paul Chan
Finance Secretary Paul Chan (second left) meets the press after delivering the 2023 budget on February 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

With Hong Kong’s economy still battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Chan announced measures including HK$5,000 consumption vouchers for eligible residents, salary and profit tax cuts capped at HK$6,000, as well as an increase in tobacco tax and the launch of a special football betting tax.

HKFP has rounded up reactions to the budget proposals from political parties and NGOs.

Third Side

Tik Chi-yuen of Third Side, the legislature’s self-proclaimed only non-establishment lawmaker, criticised Chan’s budget as promoting a “Happy Hong Kong” but leaving the poor “hopeless.”

The legislator, who represents the Social Welfare constituency, said he was “very disappointed” that Chan was “silent” on measures to alleviate poverty.

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen holds a sign reading “Happy Hong Kong, hopeless for the poor” when he meets the press on February 22, 2023 after the 2023 Budget address. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“When the minister talked about a happier Hong Kong… I could see how happy the minister was. But if I was from a poor family, what is there to be happy about?” Tik asked. Without any allocation of resources, Tik said that any talk of poverty relief would be “empty words.”

The financial chief did not address the demands of the social welfare sector, either, Tik said, after the government slashed its lump sum grant to the sector by 1 per cent last year.

The move put many social service providers – such as elderly care homes and disability care homes – under greater pressure, Tik said, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In terms of frontline services, including schools and hospitals, they did not see a 1 per cent cut. Why only reduce the resources of social welfare organisations by 1 per cent? I think is is unfair,” he said.

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB)

Pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Gary Chan said that the budget was “well adjusted and a good use of resources.”

Chan said that while relief measures were reduced, the government still “took care of citizens’ needs to the best of its ability.”

budget Pro-Beijing lawmakers
Pro-Beijing lawmakers from the DAB react to the 2023 budget on February 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

However, Stanley Li, also from the DAB, said that more should be done to support caregivers. The lawmaker said that the government’s plan to set up a 24-hour hotline to support them was not sufficient.

Li said the hotline “was a very simple [measure], caregivers would be disappointed if the government thought it would be helpful.”

New People’s Party

Regina Ip of the New People’s Party said before the budget address that she saw no reason for new rounds of consumption vouchers.

Asked why her party called Chan’s decision to disburse spending vouchers a good idea, Ip said the measure could help boost the city’s economic recovery, which was still “weak” at present.

Lawmaker Regina Ip reacting to the 2023 Budget on February 22, 2023.
Lawmaker Regina Ip reacting to the 2023 Budget on February 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“But I don’t think it should become a recurring measure. Not only because of the financial burden [it places] on the government, but I think it will go against the Lion Rock spirit of self-help and self-reliance, which has been the cornerstone of our success,” she said.

Democratic Party

Lo Kin-hei, chairperson of the Democratic Party, said on Wednesday that although there was nothing new in the budget, “I don’t see any huge mistakes in it, either.”

However, he said HK$5,000 consumption voucher was not enough to help underprivileged groups, and urged the financial secretary to increase it to HK$15,000 and extend the coverage to residents under 18 years old.

Lo Kin-hei democratic party budget 2023
Democratic Party gave comments on Hong Kong budget plan on February 22, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Lo added that the new “Happy Hong Kong” campaign was solely focused on events and festivals. “If you really want Hongkongers to be ‘happy,’ increase the value of the consumption vouchers,” he said.

He also questioned the effectiveness of Top Talent Pass Scheme after seeing instructions online about how to exploit the visa scheme to give birth in the city. The party said the authorities should try to “keep talent” before “fighting for overseas talents.”

Green groups

In a statement on Wednesday, Green Peace said that while it “welcomed” the government’s plan to promote Hong Kong as a green finance centre, it urged the administration to strengthen regulation against “greenwashing.”

“Green Peace points out that Hong Kong’s deficit for this financial year is the second highest in a decade,” the statement read.

“The government should withdraw the Lantau Tomorrow reclamation project, which might bring serious debt risk to the city, and utilise the resources to push Hong Kong towards becoming carbon neutral, such as increasing the funding for developing renewable energy.”

2023 budget
Hard copies of the 2023 budget are handed out on February 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth said it welcomed the government’s plan to set up a Green Technology and Finance Development Committee to “speed up Hong Kong’s development as an international green technology and financial centre.”

The group also welcomed the government’s plan to provide HK$200 million for trials of hydrogen fuel cell electric double-decker buses and vehicles, as well as a loan scheme with 100 per cent guarantee as an incentive for taxi owners to replace their vehicles with electric battery-run taxis.

However, Friends of the Earth also said it was “disappointed“ in the government’s slow progress to promote sustainable development.

The group urged the administration to take measures including investing in renewable energy, and building Hong Kong as a pedestrian and bicycle friendly city.

The 2023 Budget in full:

YouTube video
YouTube video
budget summary 2023

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