Financial Secretary Paul Chan came under fire from radio listeners on Thursday, accused of being "out of touch" with the public by refusing to offer cash handouts in his latest budget to relieve people's financial burden during the economic recession.
The finance chief announced on Wednesday that HK$5,000 worth of electronic vouchers will be distributed to people in installments – hopefully before September – to boost local consumption.
Appearing on a joint radio phone-in programme on the budget proposals, Chan said the move is aimed at supporting small and medium-sized businesses that have been struggling amid the pandemic, adding that he expects the scheme to boost the local economy by 0.7 percent.
Chan said those who are less well-off could use the vouchers for daily necessities, food from markets and at fast food restaurants, although they won't be able to pay utility bills with them.
However, callers to the radio show said the measure was impractical, noting that many market stalls don't have Octopus or other e-payment machines to accept the vouchers.
"Stalls at markets in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long don't have Octopus machines. The stalls selling three portions of vegetables for HK$10 don't have Octopus machines. Maybe the secretary doesn't know how we the grassroots live," one caller said.
"We don't urgently need to buy many things and may want to save up for later. If we have to spend it all every month, maybe it'll just help the big corporations."
In response, Chan said the government has set aside funding to subsidise businesses to install Octopus payments systems, adding that it will follow up on the matter.
The minister was also questioned over his plan to roll out a low-interest loan scheme for the jobless, with callers saying cash subsidies should be offered instead.
But Chan defended the loan programme, saying people will only need to repay interest in the first year.
"If a person takes a loan of HK$80,000 [the maximum amount allowed] at one percent interest rate per annum... [the interest] per month is less than HK$70," he said.
"We think the economy will improve from the middle of the year. Of course the economic recovery will take time to drive the employment market, so we designed the system so that people only need to repay interest in the first 12 months, and [the principal] after that."
The financial secretary also brushed aside criticism that a planned tax hike for equity trades will affect the financial market, saying the proposed 0.03 percentage-point increase in stamp duty will not deter investors as long as they are making a profit.