Apparently it’s all about fighting inflation

If a private-sector company’s managing director told his board he was expecting a loss of $25.2 million and then turned in a profit of $71.3 million, he would be considered absurdly lucky and probably incompetent, but certainly not clever, and he would possibly hurl himself from the 20th floor in disgrace. If a weather forecaster predicted a temperature of minus 25.2 and we ended up with a balmy 71.3 degrees in the shade, he would probably drown himself in the nearest rain gauge. But if you are John Tsang, Financial Secretary of the Big Lychee, and you anticipate a deficit of HK$25.2 billion before finding yourself sitting on HK$96.3 billion more than that, they give you a Grand Bauhinia Medal, which goes largely unremarked because drooling casino king Stanley Ho and all-purpose government flunkey Ronald Arculli get one at the same time.

As if such a magnitude of miscalculation were not enough – and it’s not like this is the first time – Tsang then presents a budget almost identical to the last one, and the one before, and the one before, etc in its sheer pointlessness. There is a phase a particular type of child goes through in which the brat performs a 30%-amusing, 70%-irritating act, is told not to do it again, and then repeats the process over and over, long after the entertainment value has been exhausted. The Donald/John Tsang habit of handing out the same ‘one-off’ sweeties to each identifiable group year after year has similarly grown beyond tiresome. Someone needs to be dragged into a corner by the ear and given a sound spanking.

They have been told before, over and over, that subsidizing people’s electricity bills encourages waste (from which two power monopolies profit), that raising tax allowances for people with dependents helps only those rich enough to pay tax, that waiving property rates just gives landlords a chance to jack rents up by the same amount, that topping up everyone’s Mandatory Provident Fund account is banal (unless you’re a bank getting a slice of the HK$24 billion in fund management fees). And yet off they go and do it again, with big smug grins on their faces as if they’re being clever. (In order to make sense of the official press release, read ‘intellectually bankrupt’ for ‘comprehensive’, ‘dim-witted’ for ‘thorough’ and ‘autism’ for ‘prudence’.)

The Sing Tao/Standard weirdly presents the budget as a slap in the face for the middle class, quoting a couple called Kwok with a monthly income of HK$80,000, of which 10,000 goes on the little princesses’ ballet classes, who can now hardly afford to go the movies. This is presumably an attempt by the pro-government papers to divert readers’ anger away from the budget’s utter obtuseness.

Buried among the blather in John Tsang’s speech to the Legislative Council yesterday is a curious section on increasing land supply. The government will give HK$300 million to the Development Bureau to “initiate public discussion about the feasibility of … new options [for land supply] by carrying out relevant studies and public engagement exercises in the next few years.” The main idea here is the use of ‘rock caverns’, essentially commercial and public space built underground and in hillsides. Like the subterranean malls in Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere.

You can initiate a lot of public discussion with HK$300 million, especially if you give yourself ‘the next few years’ to do it in. Why not just get the hell on with it and start digging? One possible reason is that it is not really economically viable; the shortage of land in Hong Kong is partly artificially created by the government in the first place, and it would be cheaper just to let people use old factory space than to solve the non-problem by carving giant caves out of granite. Also, unless I am mistaken, the igneous interior is one of the few things in our city not cornered by Li Ka-shing and the other property moguls.

A couple of years ago, young administrative officers were up at midnight dragging tycoon-legislators out of bed to get them down to the Legislative Council to vote through the government’s budget. That’s how close our ‘executive-led’ administration, complete with rigged legislature, came to having its spending plans thrown back in its face.

Will our lawmakers, now even more cantankerous, be any more supportive this time of yet another reform-ducking, short-term, opportunistic excuse for a budget? Ultimately, Beijing has a nuclear option: under Article 52 of the Basic Law, rejection of a budget leads to dissolution of the legislature first time round and, if repeated, resignation of the Chief Executive. But faced with this pointless heap of fiscal tripe yet again, and elections next year, even the most loyal legislators will delight in making this lame-duck and apparently brain-dead leadership sweat.


Click to hear the Grateful Dead’s ‘Cream Puff War’!

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9 Responses to Apparently it’s all about fighting inflation

  1. Maugrim says:

    It’s hard to know what to say. The iron ricebowl mentality of continuous ‘free’ rent to public housing tenants to the whining of the middle class because the discounts given only cover little Cyrus’ and Petunia’s violin/ballet lessons, while at the same time, people live in cage accomodation and earn $5,000 a month. What I do know is the budget seems to be window dressing and not dealing with ‘real’ issues to any large extent other than pacifying sources of potential opposition.

  2. Honey Chile says:

    Get the stick outya ass. This is free lunch all roun.

  3. Sir Crispin says:

    The sun sets a just a little more. Hems, can you block HC? The he-she is getting really rather tiresome.

  4. Stephen says:

    First of all – First class analysis of a p*ss poor budget.

    The lack of political savvy displayed by Don & John is disturbing. I know we are not supposed to mention colonial times but did they not learn anything from Patten who, whatever you may think of the position of Colonial Governor, was a first rate politician?

    Now you have an angry middle class with no decent political party to represent their concerns – affordable private housing, rising inflation. They may vent, they may march. This does not bode well for the mainland’s edict of harmony etc.

  5. mumphLT says:

    How on earth did Little Tsang get to be out by 90 billion? Has he still got the fag packet he worked it out on? (Incidentally worth $10 more today if it’s still got the fags in it).

  6. Gerald Simmonds says:

    Being the selfish b..t..d that I am, I’m quite pleased to receive benefits worth about $12,000, even though I do agree with Hemmy’s analysis! Any constructive suggestions as to what could be done to better the lot of the really poor folks in this town who will get none of these benefits?

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    Hemlock and the Grateful Dead: what a strange combination. I think of him more as a Hollies/ Cilla Black sort of type.

  8. Bayta Darell says:

    It surprising to agree with Sir Crispin about anything, but I’m also a vote for Hems to block HC. HC he-she wasn’t remotely witty the first time and its been down hill from there. Repititon doesn’t make it better. Let’s leave racial stereotyping and making ‘rudey’ words funny to experts like Billy Connolly, and not you Honey.

  9. stuart says:

    Honey is clearly George Adams – Sad Bastard on so many levels suffice to say. We are all Dr. Discustard.

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