It just doesn’t seem right.
He insists he’s spending people’s money in the right places, but the timing probably isn’t quite right.
Fresh from his maiden budget speech, in which he stressed the need for fiscal prudence, newly appointed Financial Secretary Paul Chan had to confront a report that he has spent an estimated HK$2 million on renovating his 40,000 square foot official residence in Shouson Hill.
It was Apple Daily that broke the news again – the same newspaper that has brought us other juicy, if unflattering, stories about him and his family, from a questionable land deal in northeast New Territories to a purported case of drink driving.
Chan was appointed financial secretary last month, but his term of office will end in July when a new administration is set to take over. His current boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, isn’t seeking a second term.
By spending taxpayers’ money on the renovation of his official residence, is Chan fairly confident that he’ll keep his post if Beijing’s anointed candidate Carrie Lam becomes the next chief executive? That she’ll be the next chief executive?
Last week, on Budget Day, he told reporters that he had not been approached by any of the CE aspirants about him keeping his post after July 1.
Besides, he said, he had no time for such a “job interview” as he was busy preparing the budget.
Well, if that is true, shouldn’t he wait until July after he has been reappointed, before undertaking any renovation of the residence?
His reason for renovation is far from compelling. He said the place last occupied by former financial secretary and now chief executive contender John Tsang has not been renovated for the past 10 years so he found it necessary to repaint the walls, replace some old furniture and refurbish the tennis court.
All the aspects of renovation are basic, he noted. Changing the curtains, carpets and kitchen benchtop is necessary because the residence will be used to host dinners for important visitors.
Chan assured that the exact amount for the renovation will be disclosed in due time.
“We will not splash out with public money, we will only spend in the right places,” he also stressed.
That’s quite a familiar line because he said something of that sort in his budget announcement last week: “We should spend only when necessary and make good use of the reserves to benefit society.”
He said he could have offered “one-off” sweeteners to gain popularity as a public official, but he did not because he decided it was better to allocate financial resources for the long-term benefit of society.
Come to think of it, the HK$2 million renovation fee is equivalent to the HK$1,325 monthly fruit money for 1,500 people, or the cost of providing 80,000 lunch boxes for needy people in Sham Shui Po.
It is hard not to miss his predecessor John Tsang, the underdog in the chief executive race, who has been criticized for his tight grip on the purse strings for social welfare – and a firm believer of the home economics dictum that “if it isn’t broken, don’t bother to fix it”.
And so we now have a financial secretary who talks about spending in the right places but ends up spending at the wrong time and possibly in the wrong places too.
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