'Spicy' measures, deficit top budget concerns - RTHK
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'Spicy' measures, deficit top budget concerns

2024-02-28 HKT 06:05
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  • Paul Chan is facing calls to scrap property-cooling measures in his budget blueprint amid a slumping market.
    Paul Chan is facing calls to scrap property-cooling measures in his budget blueprint amid a slumping market.
Amid a government deficit and an ailing property market, Financial Secretary Paul Chan will be delivering a budget blueprint on Wednesday morning that aims to meet the needs of various sectors of society and, at the same time, ensure the best use of public resources.

Among the key concerns for the public this year are the fate of property-cooling measures, a possible increase in government fees and charges, as well as the administration's financial position as it faces one of its largest deficits ever.

Many developers, lawmakers and market watchers think now is the time to scrap the "spicy" measures that were first put in place more than a decade ago to fight property speculation.

They cited a slumping housing market, with the number of transactions last year at the lowest since records began in 1996, and falling prices leading to a surge in negative-equity cases.

Chan, for his part, has said officials have been keeping a close eye on the situation and will make suitable adjustments when necessary.

Weaker-than-expected land sales and stock transactions were to blame for a budget deficit that's expected to top HK$100 billion.

Some put the figure at more than HK$130 billion, which would be the third biggest shortfall on record.

That has sparked calls for the administration to find ways to generate revenue and rein in spending.

The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, for example, called for a review of the tax system and stressed the need for stable and sustainable government revenue.

The finance chief has said officials plan to cut costs by lowering recurrent expenditure and continuing to freeze the overall civil service headcount.

And a review of public service charges that haven't been raised for some time is on the cards. Items put under the spotlight include public hospital charges, water bills and various types of licence fees.

Chan made it clear people's affordability will be taken into consideration, while those who are against higher fees and charges said the less well-off would be hit the hardest.

As for relief measures, the financial secretary said people can expect fewer sweeteners this time round because of the government's financial position.

And the public will find out if he will announce another round of consumption vouchers to boost spending, a move that the administration has taken since 2021 when the economy was hit by the pandemic.

'Spicy' measures, deficit top budget concerns