Cash handouts alone won't boost public trust

February 18, 2020 18:10
Customers line up to buy face masks at a store in Causeway on Feb. 3. The key to reviving public trust is for the government to address the real needs of the people, not just to shower them with cash. Photo: CNSA

The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen told a radio program last Saturday that the administration is in a worse position in fighting the raging novel coronavirus epidemic than it was in combating the SARS outbreak 17 years ago.

That's because public trust in the administration is currently low, and some people are even resorting to violence to mount their resistance. As a result, the government has to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak and political issues at the same time, Nip said.

While it remains unclear whether the authorities have political considerations in fighting the virus, we do agree it is an objective reality that the people's confidence in the government is low at this point.

Thus, the question of how to boost public trust in her governing team is of substantial concern to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is set to unveil the new budget on Feb. 26, but the chief executive appeared to have pre-empted him last Friday by announcing a relief package amounting to HK$25 billion in response to the outbreak.

Speaking to reporters before the regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said the relief package has been increased to almost HK$28 billion following an assessment.

She said her latest initiatives are intended to step up efforts at containing the spread of the virus in the city, and support sectors and industries that are affected by the outbreak to prevent massive business closures and layoffs in the coming days.

However, there is a huge question mark hanging over whether handing out cash alone is enough to resuscitate public trust in the SAR government, which has remained at rock bottom in recent months.

Over the past half-year, the administration has rolled out four rounds of relief measures in response to the social unrest resulting from the now-withdrawn extradition bill, all of which totaled about HK$25 billion.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, these relief measures have done little to ease public resentment towards the administration.

So the question is, can the government boost public trust this time around by giving out another relief package worth nearly HK$28 billion?

Probably nobody would object to any cash handout from the government. But we believe that the key to reviving public trust is for the administration to address the real needs of the people, not just to shower them with cash.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 17

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal