Tsang stuns with most mediocre budget yet

If you want to know how dire Financial Secretary John Tsang’s budget speech was yesterday, read a newspaper column. Any page, any column. More than one article on the same page, in some cases. While looking at the subject from various angles, they all come to much the same conclusion: the guy is full of crap.

The examples of Tsang’s awfulness jostle for space: warped priorities, incompetent forecasting, this obsessive fear of people being healthier and living longer, the insistence that already-bloated government reserves are insufficient. He lives in a world where the economy and public finances face severe threats and pressures that require the people to sacrifice wealth and prosperity. The underlying principle is that people exist to serve the economy, not the other way round. The flimsily hidden agenda is to continue to channel major revenue streams away from things that make our lives better towards bureaucratic and especially corporate interests, specifically in the property/construction sphere – half a dozen particular families being inordinate beneficiaries.

One glimmer of good news is that our officials are so ineffective that attempts to further entrench this quasi-feudal structure through the introduction of a sales tax or additional levies for health-care coverage repeatedly fail in the face of strong popular opposition. This is partly because the public has been getting wiser to the rottenness of the system and in particular unwilling to believe lies about government finances. But it probably also reflects the trickle-down of the selfishness and sense of entitlement displayed by the aforementioned bureaucratic and corporate interests.

Tycoons over the years have been more brazenly stuffing their pockets at everyone else’s expense. Following their example, civil servants, Mercedes-owning public housing tenants, the tourism industry and employers of imported labour have become more aggressive about defending or expanding their privileges. Next thing, everyone is demanding something at somebody else’s expense.

We used to have a system that allocated resources in a way most people agreed they could live with. It was a fairly dog-eat-dog sort of system, with a dash of socialism to take the edges off, but it was widely accepted as basically fair (even if it wasn’t). That’s all gone. You want a home or a shorter waiting list for hospital treatment? The wealth required for these things was used to build a giant bridge to Zhuhai that no-one will use. It ended up in someone else’s pockets. You should’ve grabbed it first. Now tourism interests demanding another 50 million Mainlanders a year walk off with the rest. You wanted better schools? Tough luck.

This is where the shallow and uninquiring mindset underlying John Tsang’s budgets, and our governance in general, ultimately points – to the degradation of any community ethos.

On which subject, the lead story in most newspapers is not the inanity of the Financial Secretary, but the attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau. This sort of vicious paid-for chopping is usually the result of something personal – a face-losing slight suffered by some insecure malignance with nasty friends of friends, for example. But in today’s climate of Beijing paranoia and pressure on the media, people are ready to believe anything. That in itself is scary.

Whichever way this whole steadily growing pile of mess ends up, this mid-2010s Hong Kong zeitgeist is going to make a great setting for a novel or movie one day.

Finally: ‘Locust’-in-headlines-gate enters day three, with the editors of the South China Morning Post putting the journalistic dwarfs at the grotty Standard in their place with a just-mildly-snotty open letter on responsibility and some pointed advice  to “review their policies towards racial epithets and hate speech.”

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19 Responses to Tsang stuns with most mediocre budget yet

  1. nulle says:

    believe it or not, I suspect Kevin Lau not towing the Beijing and CY Leung’s line. Kevin Lau probably not giving CY Leung face and obedience. So CY Leung need to teach Kevin Lau a lesson using his triad friends to “kill one to warn hundreds” of not kowtow to Beijing…

  2. maugrim says:

    There are alot of truisms in today’s post to process. This paragraph nails it:

    blockquote>Tycoons over the years have been more brazenly stuffing their pockets at everyone else’s expense. Following their example, civil servants, Mercedes-owning public housing tenants, the tourism industry and employers of imported labour have become more aggressive about defending or expanding their privileges. Next thing, everyone is demanding something at somebody else’s expense.<

    It was amazing to see on TVB this week a lawyer earning $100,000 per month whining about how badly he was of in terms of ‘others get something, but we get nothing from the Government’. Such sentiments won’t be stopped by an annual gift but will develop a sense of entitlement. As to the budget, are you telling me that with all our civil service and the percentage of GDP spent on creating ‘Government’, that the medium to long term planning initatives they identified, are the best we can do? A few hotels around a cruise terminal that only operates part of the year? They don’t get it do they? As to the poor journalist, as was said, sometimes these things can be murky in HK, however, its sad, so very sad to see a Government so worried about our reputation regarding Mainlanders that they are willing to brush off real attacks on HK, its people and our reputation as a free city, including a place in which to do business.

  3. PHT says:

    “The underlying principle is that people exist to serve the economy, not the other way round.”

    It seems that people exist to serve the government. Why else is it trying promote increased fertility and population growth. If people exist to serve the economy, it would mean that the government also exist to serve the economy. Clearly it is the civil servants who are in charge and must be served.

  4. Sid says:

    You do have a way with words!

    Perhaps the problem with JT and his ilk is cultural? Brought up in a safe, colonial, cohesive, early-toilet-trained society with few dissenting voices, where even the academics and public intellectuals toed the line and the patriotic triads paid taxes, he never learned to question the conventional wisdom, to be wary of the slipperiness of language, to realise that a double negative doesn’t necessarily make a positive, to think of the pros and cons, laterally, out of the box, holistically or creatively (apologies for using yesteryear’s cliches).

    If his education, presumably entirely in English (in theory), had only managed to inculcate a few glimmers of unAsian values, some inkling that Confucius may not have been entirely right on every single issue, even some elementary understanding of Christianity or simple common sense, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

  5. Probably says:

    1. Don’t build a third airport runway
    2. Raise the tolls for the cross harbour tunnel

    There, government finance fears resolved and social popularity achieved all before lunchtime. It can’t be that hard a job can it, John?

  6. Morel he says:

    3. Occupy Central now.

  7. Why do the media always call budget concessions “giveaways”? It’s our money in the first place, so the correct term is “giving back”.

    The government should regard itself as the custodian of the wealth contributed by taxpayers, not the owner.

  8. gweiloeye says:

    That banker wanker on 100k a month is the best advertisement for means testing benefits I have seen in a long time.

  9. Ex Tax payer says:

    @ Morel

    I suggest rather than occupy central a few student nerds should occupy JT’s skull.

    He’s got a very big head – inflated by his high position – and there’s nothing in there so there’s plenty of room for the students

    Failing students a few dozen monkeys would do a better job than he does. At least they would have more imagination

  10. Gumshoe says:

    I think people may be beyond help when they consider making 12,000 US dollars a month “middle class”.

  11. dopey says:

    Raise tolls on Central and Eastern tunnel. I live in Kowloon and use the tunnel every day and still want to see a $40 toll (and equivalent %age increase for vehicles other than private cars).

    Four simple changes to transport policy and policing would improve HK immeasurably:

    1) Higher tunnel tolls. Possibly including demand pricing.
    2) Zero tolerance enforcement of parking infractions.
    3) Re-introduce diesel duty.
    4) Electronic road pricing.

    Just posting this depresses me. As these are all well known measures (along with innumerable others) proposed by wonderfully earnest and intelligent people that are forever ignored by government.

  12. Gumshoe says:


    I don’t have any kind of data besides the prices, but one thought I’ve had is that the government is actually worried about pushing traffic to the other privately owned tunnels, even if it makes traffic better, because the overall income from the cross-harbor may be much more elastic than some people think. Could end up costing them money instead of making money.

  13. Pie-chucker says:

    @ dopey

    I think you’re tinkering around the edges, much as recent budgets.

    There are more than 500,000 private cars in Hong Kong. Mandate, as from now, by 2022, all such vehicles will be electric.

    Busses and trucks will be electric by 2025.

    Does the battery technology exist? It will with the spur of satisfying this city state. Get Singapore, Macau in on it. Better, Beijing and Shanghai.

    Hong Kong can create positive global media interest in something like this.

    We should be maverick, forward-thinking. That’s who we once were.

    Oh, and put the parking/’waiting’ fine up to $1,000 and get Pyongyang intersecion girls down here as traffic wardens. They won’t put up with any nonsense.

  14. Ex Tax payer says:

    J Tsang’s budget did not make headline news in all the newspapers

    For those who read Chinese the HK Sun 太阳报 devoted the whole front page ( A1) and half the second page to Mr “AV” Ho’s porno internet browsing.

    Serves him right

  15. Jon Dica says:

    And make the MTR provide 24-hour service once you jack up those harbour tolls, please.

  16. Sid says:

    “Hong Kong is a law-binding society that will not tolerate illegal acts” (the then former “NCNA”). Shurely shome mishtake for “legal”.

  17. dopey says:

    @Gumshoe – I wasn’t clear in stating that I think that tunnel prices should be raised at both the Central and Eastern crossing.

    @Pie-chucker – Radical change has it’s allure, and given the current state of HK governance it seems just as a likely to happen as tinkering at the edges. 🙁

  18. The Regulator says:

    The HK civil service had a clause inserted in HK’s Basic Law guaranteeing them a mortgage on public money to pay their salaries and pensions at 1997 levels as a minimum. The amount is now equal to 3/4 of The Exchange Fund’s value.

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