Ill-conceived cash handout won't win brownie points for Chan

March 28, 2018 16:09
After buckling under public pressure, Finance Secretary Paul Chan sees very little improvement in his popularity. Photo: HKEJ

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has found himself stuck in a “happy predicament” over how to spend the government’s HK$138 billion budget surplus.

At first, he rejected the idea of giving cash handouts to all Hong Kong citizens, and only agreed to dole out HK$50 billion worth of sweeteners.

However, after incurring the ire of the public, he finally agreed to provide eligible individuals with a one-off cash handout of HK$4,000.

Chan insisted that he only changed his mind in order to allow more people to share in the city’s prosperity.

But, of course, everybody knows that the HK$4,000 cash handouts are indeed intended as a desperate “remedy” for his highly unpopular budget in an apparent effort to resuscitate his approval ratings that have plunged to rock bottom.

Unfortunately, his cash handout proposal is so complicated and confusing: a lot of citizens are just at a complete loss about whether or not they are eligible for the money. Also, it may take up to a year for eligible applicants to finally receive that HK$4,000.

As a result, although he was brought to his knees by public pressure and he eventually agreed to give out cash, Chan has only seen very little rebound in his popularity, mainly because his plan has given the public an impression that it is so poorly coordinated and inefficient.

Chan’s currently embarrassing situation closely resembles the dilemma in which his predecessor John Tsang Chun-wah was stuck back in 2011, only that this time Chan’s cash handout plan appears even more ill-conceived than Tsang’s.

The fact that both Tsang and Chan were still in the doghouse even after they had bowed to public pressure and offered cash handouts indicates that “remedial measures” that lack both foresight and vision won’t necessarily gain public favor.

And even more ironic is that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her financial chief, both of whom often boast of their “new fiscal management philosophy”, are just repeating the same mistake as that of the previous administration and once again have to resort to giving out cash in order to allay public anger.

All these suggest that all the current administration did is follow the beaten track of the previous administration.

As far as Chan is concerned, it remains to be seen whether he can pull off a major popularity rebound like Tsang did in the coming days.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal