The Hong Kong government will launch a new round of relief measures to support the sectors that have been affected by the social unrest over the past six months.
The government will probably post a fiscal deficit for the 2019-20 fiscal year, the first time in 15 years, due to uncertainty in the global economy amid the US-China trade dispute and the prolonged protests in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a media briefing before the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s time to make good use of our fiscal reserves to help Hong Kong people relieve their difficulties,” Lam said, adding that Hong Kong had accumulated fiscal reserves amounting to about HK$1.1 trillion (US$141 billion) over the past several years.
Lam said she had received different proposals from legislators about how to support different sectors. She said the government would launch the fourth round of relief measures very soon. The previous three rounds of measures cost a total of HK$21.6 billion.
She also encouraged the private sector to help support the job markets.
Because of strong land-sales revenue, the government recorded a fiscal surplus of HK$111 billion in 2016-17, HK$149 billion in 2017-18 and and HK$68 billion in 2018-19.
During the third quarter of this year, Hong Kong saw a 2.9% year-on-year decline in its gross domestic product. It was the first annualized economic contraction since the third quarter of 2009, when the economy contracted 1.7%. GDP grew 0.6% in the first quarter of this year and 0.4% in the second quarter.
On Saturday, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council discussed the previous relief measures launched between August and October.
Yiu Si-wing, a lawmaker representing the Tourism Functional Constituency, said the government should unveil more stimuli to boost the economy. Yiu suggested that the government could subsidize elderly and underprivileged people for domestic travel in order to support the tourism sector. He said 39 travel agencies closed down while 17 new travel agencies were established between June and August. He warned that more branches of travel agencies would be shut down in early 2020 if social unrest continued in the city.
Jonathan Ho Kai-ming, a lawmaker of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said construction workers were concerned about the postponement of construction work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University after the government withdrew a HK$1.6 billion funding application from the Legislative Council.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a legislator of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged the government to deliver consumption coupons to the people and directly subsidize the shops that were affected by protests.
Roy Kwong Chun-yu, a Democratic Party lawmaker, suggested that the government deliver cash to all Hong Kong people, as the previous measures to waive rents for public housing and grant more comprehensive social-security assistance to the underprivileged were not enough to stimulate local consumption.
On Tuesday, Lam said many indicators had shown that the Hong Kong economy was in a severe situation. She said retail sales in October fell 24.3% from the same month last year while, the 3.1% unemployment rate could surge in the near future.
Lam said she, as well as many Hong Kong people, was disappointed by the reappearance of “violent protests” over the past weekends after the city remained largely peaceful during the District Council election in late November. She said the police had no choice but to use teargas because of road occupations and violence, which would drag down the local economy.
Lam Cheuk-ting, another Democratic Party lawmaker, criticized Lam for refusing to look into police brutality. He said the freedoms of the press, speech and assembly were being eroded, while many police officers had been accused of using excessive force and ignoring the medical needs of injured people.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in the streets to call for the government to fulfill their five demands, which included the implementation of genuine universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police brutality. Organizers of a Sunday march in Tsim Sha Tsui said a total of 380,000 people had shown up, while the police said there were only 16,000 protesters at peak time. The march began at 3pm but ended quickly as the police fired teargas at protesters at 4pm.
Some protesters blocked roads and set fire to some debris in Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom in the evening, while the police used teargas and pepper balls.