Cash shower may not turn things around for Lam administration

February 28, 2020 17:06
Financial Secretary Paul Chan is apparently seeking to resuscitate the rock-bottom popularity of the SAR administration and ease public grievances by substantially loosening the purse strings. Photo: Photo: HKEJ

As expected, public attention has been focused on the HK$10,000 cash handouts offered by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po in his latest budget.

It is estimated that up to 7 million citizens are eligible for the money, including those who are currently residing abroad, and the initiative is going to cost the government HK$71 billion.

On the surface, the finance chief is presenting a budget that will result in the biggest deficit ever in order to support enterprises and safeguard jobs.

Yet most people understand that what Chan is trying to do with his budget is to resuscitate the rock-bottom popularity of the SAR administration and ease public grievances, following months of social unrest and amid the raging Covid-19 epidemic, by substantially loosening the purse strings.

So can cash handouts really alleviate public resentment and boost the government’s record-low approval ratings?

Judging from the current social atmosphere, we believe the odds aren’t really that high.

According to the latest poll conducted by Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), up to 60 percent of our citizens gave Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor zero mark, with the public vote of confidence in Lam dropping further from 13 percent in early February to only 9 percent.

However, an instant poll conducted by the HKPORI on the budget showed that 46 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the budget, while Chan’s popularity rating after his budget speech, at 43.5, represents a significant improvement from the level recorded earlier this month.

The hopelessly low popularity of Lam and her administration indicates that social grievances have become so intense that the cash handouts might be able to ease public anger only for a while, but, we are afraid, are still unlikely to turn things around on the whole.

One key contributing element to the public outrage is the severely poor relations between citizens and the police.

And that explains why the financial secretary’s enhanced HK$26.8 billion allocation for the police has immediately set the internet alight, with netizens hotly debating over whether lawmakers should vote against the entire budget.

Another thing: the HK$10,000 cash handouts could backfire on the government if Chan messes things up again in the course of delivering the money just as he did with the HK$4,000 cash subsidies two years ago.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 27

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal