In his budget speech last week, Financial Secretary John Tsang announced one-off relief measures and tax concessions worth HK$30 billion, just like what he did last year.
The “sweeteners” year after year in his budgets might be benefiting citizens from different walks of life and helping Tsang gain in popularity, but there is one question that we need to ask: will such moves really benefit our society as a whole in the long run?
Personally I have always been against giving out sweeteners.
It’s because I believe that only by investing our surplus funds in education, infrastructure and health care, rather than use the money to offer doles to the public, can the quality of life of our citizens be truly improved in the long run.
That said, Tsang deserves credit for the pragmatism and his accurate market positioning for Hong Kong that he showed in his latest budget, as compared to the unrealistic, over-ambitious and flamboyant policy address of his boss Leung Chun-ying, who spent most of his annual speech in January on the “One Belt One Road” strategy that nobody in our city really cares about.
I definitely agree with Tsang’s remarks that Hong Kong, as an international financial hub, must work more aggressively to explore new markets and be more pro-active in concluding free trade agreements with other regions, rather than relying entirely on the China market.
In the meantime, we must keep abreast of the latest political and economic developments across the globe and be always on the lookout for new opportunities. We must also cultivate our own talent with a global vision.
Having said that, I strongly urge the government to enhance our university student exchange programs in order to broaden the horizons of our young people.
The administration should also consider subsidizing our citizens, regardless of their age and education levels, for courses on international relations, foreign languages and different cultures.
The latest budget speech paid a good deal of attention to the topic of “New Economic Order”, which refers to how new breakthroughs in information technology in recent years have changed our daily lives and business models, and the paradigm shift on the socio-economic level as a result of the ongoing tech revolution.
In the face of the challenges posed by this tech revolution, not only does our government have to adjust its policies, its role and its regulation mechanism to adapt to the new environment, but our workforce must also adapt itself to the new change.
The degree to which we are able to adjust ourselves to the new economic environment will determine whether Hong Kong will be able to thrive in the future.
In the days ahead, people in charge of human resources planning and staff training in the local professional sectors should focus more on how to make their professional knowledge and new IT technologies complement each other better in order to enhance efficiency and productivity.
Tsang vowed to promote the development of new financial technologies. For example, “Blockchain”, which he mentioned in his speech, is a new technology that has the potential to replace the conventional bookkeeping work and can largely reduce the time and cost of business transactions and cash flow.
Despite the fact that the technology itself is still in its infancy, in the future it might prove to be a huge game-changer which will completely alter the way how banks and accounting firms work.
Recently, Nasdaq and JPMorgan Chase jointly announced a pilot scheme on the application of the so-called blockchain.
Tsang’s budget speech also touched upon Hong Kong’s unique potential for developing the “green bond” market, which refers to the issuance and trading of bonds that provide capital for environmentally-friendly business projects.
In the last couple of years, there has been rapid growth in the green bond market both in China and across the world.
In 2014 alone, a whopping US$37 billion worth of green bonds were issued around the world, and the market is growing by leaps and bounds.
Hong Kong has lagged behind other major financial centers in developing the green bond market. Obviously there is a lot of work cut out for our financial regulators and investment bankers.
In conclusion, this year’s budget has pointed the right direction for our economic development, and has responded to the new opportunities and challenges posed by the global tech boom.
However, it is still up to our financial officials as to whether the new measures proposed in the budget will exist only on paper or be put into practice.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March. 02.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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