Hong Kong fiscal reserves under threat as public expenditure soars

Hong Kong’s famend fiscal reserves are in danger after the town’s opposition-free legislature authorized file public expenditure over the previous yr, analysts have warned.

Specialists added that funds would come below even higher pressure as the town ready to construct tasks that might facilitate higher integration between the territory and the Chinese language mainland.

Lawmakers authorized greater than HK$305bn (US$39bn) within the 2020-21 legislative session, which resulted in October, for presidency tasks, a nine-year excessive. Politicians mentioned every scheme for simply 46 minutes on common, down from about two hours in earlier years, earlier than giving them the inexperienced gentle.

Critics stated the spending revealed that the legislature had turn into the federal government’s “de facto ATM machine”.

The Asian monetary hub has lengthy been recognized for its big fiscal reserves, gathered principally from land gross sales and taxes. However by September this yr, the town’s conflict chest had been pushed all the way down to HK$812bn, from almost HK$1.2tn in March final yr, after additional outlays on pandemic assist schemes.

Most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp resigned en masse from the Legislative Council in November 2020 in protest towards the ousting of 4 of their colleagues, leaving the legislature nearly freed from opposition.

Following Beijing’s overhaul of the electoral system that barred “unpatriotic” candidates from working, opposition politicians are unlikely to make a return to the legislature.

“With out correct checks and balances, the strain on [fiscal reserves] will enhance,” stated Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia excluding Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets.

Andy Kwan, a director at ACE Centre for Enterprise and Financial Analysis, agreed, saying the federal government might “simply now not have fiscal self-discipline . . . particularly on the subject of big expenditures for upcoming large-scale tasks”.

Final month, the town’s chief Carrie Lam introduced plans to develop an enormous residential space close to the border with mainland China inside 20 years, dubbed the “Northern Metropolis”, however gave no indication of its prices.

“Lantau Tomorrow Imaginative and prescient”, one other massive authorities challenge within the strategy planning stage, goals to construct homes on man-made islands to the south of the town. The federal government estimated the challenge would value greater than HK$600bn.

Extra massive infrastructure tasks are anticipated to be authorized to assist Hong Kong turn into extra intricately linked to the mainland, Kwan stated, which might pile higher strain on the town’s money reserves.

“The Northern Metropolis alone already entails 5 railway tasks linking Hong Kong with the mainland. The federal government wants to elucidate the cost-effectiveness of those plans,” Kwan stated.

Chan Kin-por, who chairs the legislature’s finance committee, denied the physique had turn into a rubber stamp and argued that there had been extra “high quality discussions . . . with greater effectivity” with out the opposition camp.

Aside from the bills on massive infrastructure tasks, Hong Kong’s income has been hit by Covid-19 border restrictions, which meant fewer vacationers and enterprise travellers. Earlier than the pandemic struck, the town was rocked by anti-government protests in 2019 that analysts stated had undermined its standing as Asia’s premier monetary hub.

The HK$305bn authorized this previous legislative session was almost 10 per cent greater than the HK$279bn authorised in 2019-20. The spending didn’t embrace HK$205bn of emergency funding authorized by lawmakers for Covid-related reduction functions over the previous two years.


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