Cash handouts won't put an end to political crisis

February 25, 2020 13:24
Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who will present the budget for 2020-21 on Wednesday, has been facing pressure for cash handouts to citizens to help support consumption and shore up the economy. Photo: HKEJ

As Hong Kong frets about the coronavirus outbreak and its potential fallout on the economy, the city's finance chief is preparing to unveil the government's annual budget proposals on Wednesday.

Unlike with his previous budgets, what Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is facing this time is a near-consensus among the public as well as all political parties that the government should generously offer citizens cash handouts in order to help them weather the economic storms caused by the virus epidemic and the months-long 2019 social unrest.

Now, we'd like to point that even if Chan does agree to tap into the government’s fiscal reserves and hand out cash to all eligible local citizens, it won't mean that the people of Hong Kong will let bygones be bygones and put aside their deep-rooted grievances.

Or to put it more bluntly, one would be naive to think that the government can resolve public resentment and disaffection just by showering cash on people.

The fact is that what is truly at the root of the ongoing social crisis is not health scare or money woes, but rather a complete lack of faith in the government among the public.

Citizens don't have faith in the administration because it has committed a breach of the social contract by failing to deliver on its pledges on policy issues, and more importantly, failing to properly implement “One Country Two Systems”.

Coming to the issue of the coronavirus, Hong Kong people were actually taking a sideswipe at their Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration when they cheered Macau's leader Ho Lat-seng for his swift and decisive moves to fight the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic.

Any government which is up to standard would have made the same or at least similar decisions as the Macau administration did.

But sadly, the Hong Kong government has proven to be so dysfunctional that it was unable to make even the most basic decisions when it comes to fighting the infectious disease outbreak.

Given the situation, how possibly can the citizens be convinced that they can rely on Lam and her governing team to guide them through tough times?

The stark truth is that unless the government truly gets to the root of the issues causing a crisis of confidence in society, it will never be able to regain public trust no matter how generously it hands out cash.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal