Hong Kong’s finance chief said the city must be cautious how it spends its surplus after a radio caller chided him for a “stingy” decision to halve the value of the consumption voucher to HK$5,000 in the budget for the coming year.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan attended a televised forum on Wednesday night and a radio phone-in forum on Thursday morning, after delivering the first budget of Chief Executive John Lee’s term on Wednesday morning.

Paul Chan radio 2023 Budget
Financial Secretary Paul Chan attends a radio programme on February 23, 2023, a day after he delivered the 2023 Budget. Photo: GovHK.

A caller surnamed Cheung, who phoned the call-in show on Thursday morning, said the government should not be nervous about the estimated deficit, and the proposed HK$5,000 consumption voucher – half the value of the current year – was not enough.

The finance chief said on Wednesday that the deficit for the 2022/23 financial year was estimated to be HK$140 billion, and the city could still see a HK$54.4 billion deficit for 2023-24.

Cheung called the deficit “trivial,” as the city still had reserves of around HK$800 billion, and there was also the foreign currency reserve.

“Why is [the government] so nervous? [The deficit] is not a great scourge. You only plan to distribute HK$5,000, it is more and more stingy,” said Cheung.

“Macau gave HK$10,000 to everyone, including kids, for over a decade … Uncle Paul, why are you so stingy?”

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

In response, the finance secretary said that the city cannot “pretend to be wealthy,” and the government would not use the foreign currency fund lightly, as it was intended to defend the peg between the US dollar and the city’s currency.

“If we easily use the foreign currency fund, and affect financial stability and the stability of our currency, it would cause great harm to society,” said Chan.

The financial chief also said in a televised forum on Wednesday night that distributing consumption vouchers was not viable in the long run.

Chan said the government would have to consider the situation in each fiscal year after he was asked if the scheme would be halted in the future.

The 2023 Budget in full:

YouTube video
YouTube video
budget summary 2023

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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.