[政黨政治] Editorial Populism and handouts

【明報專訊】THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL’S (Legco’s) second reading of the Appropriation Bill resumes tomorrow, and some legislators are planning to press their demands by filibuster. Filibuster is just their method. There are serious problems unveiled by the Budget, of which one is that government spending has kept going up. The ratio of it to gross domestic product, which was 19.9% in 2012-13, will jump to 21.7% – again top the alert level (20%) – in 2013-14.

When it spends more money, the government is expected actually to take steps to promote economic growth and speed up economic restructuring, try to tackle problems with health care and education or invest in Hong Kong’s future. The government has kept saying resources are scarce and must be properly employed. However, over the past six years, John Tsang, as Financial Secretary of the last administration and this, has handed out more than $210 billion in total (including the $33 billion budgeted this year). All such handouts are one-off payments.

The percentage of elderly citizens in Hong Kong is going up, and health care and welfare spending is rocketing. However, over the past six years, John Tsang has handed out $210 billion in total instead of allocating more resources to services for the elderly so that the government can meet needs that will inevitably arise.

It is of course right for the government to provide underprivileged people with assistance they really need when the economy is in difficulty. However, Hong Kong is now in crisis because there are deep-seated contradictions that must be urgently resolved. Inflation is high, and property prices and rents are high in Hong Kong, whose economic development has hit a bottleneck. There are no new areas that may fuel economic growth. It is a palliative rather than a cure to hand out money, but society now focuses so much on handouts as to disregard long-term plans and policies. It is indeed myopic to do so.

It was generally believed that democratisation would breed populism. To get votes, politicians may recklessly make out electioneering cheques, and government spending may sharply go up as a result. However, it is quite clear from what happened in the seven years when Donald Tsang headed the government that an administration not elected by universal suffrage may be populist and wasteful of resources. The Leung administration has not been able to break with the “handing out money" pattern in the first year of its term. It is doubtless an important criterion for judging its effectiveness whether it can help citizens to kick their addiction to handouts. Furthermore, it is a concern whether populism will go from bad to worse when the chief executive (CE) is or when all the Legco members are elected by universal suffrage.

Last year, when Henry Tang and Leung Chun-ying ran against each other in the CE race, the former, to boost his popularity, said elderly citizens would each get $3,000 a month if he got elected. Leung followed suit, pledging an allowance of $2,200 a month. That is why the government has begun this month to pay elderly citizens the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA). In this year’s Budget, recurrent social welfare spending is as much as $56 billion, up 30.5% on the previous year. The percentage increase tops that of any other item mainly because of the OALA, which costs the government an additional $8.3 billion. This is clear proof that a CE elected by a small circle is not immune to the handout malady. Unless this problem is squarely addressed, things will worsen in 2017, when the CE is elected by universal suffrage. The taxpayer may then have to pay even more dearly.

It is one of the legislators’ responsibilities to exercise such supervision as to prevent the administration from squandering money and the CE from recklessly making out political cheques. However, we gather that a demand some Legco members intend to press by filibuster is that the government “refund $10,000″. What high hopes can one pin on such a Legco?

明報社評 2013.04.16﹕政府開支升升升 民粹當道派糖成風非港之福

立法會明日恢復二讀財政預算案的撥款條例草案,有議員將「拉布」爭取訴求。拉布只是形式,更重要的是財政預算案流露的問題,其中之一就是政府開支持續增加,2013/14年度公共開支相當於本地生產總值的比重將由2012/13年度的19.9%跳升至21.7%,重越20%的警戒水平。

政府開支增加,人們期望政府辦實事、發展經濟、推動經濟轉型,或用以解決醫療、教育等投資未來的問題;只是,政府一直說資源有限,要用得其所,不過,連同本年度派糖耗費330億元,曾俊華在前後兩屆政府6年任期之內,派糖開支超過2100億元,都是一次過措施。

長者人口比例增加,醫療、福利等開支急速上升,但是6年來,曾俊華寧可派糖耗費2100億元,也未有認真在安老方面撥出更多資源,應付必然到來的需求。

在經濟陷入困局時向真正有需要幫助的弱勢社群伸出援手,是政府應有之義,但社會當前的最大危機是深層次矛盾迫在眉睫——高樓價高通脹高租金、經濟發展遇上瓶頸、經濟欠缺新動力,派糖只能治標無法治本,社會卻把焦點集中於派糖而忽略其他長遠政策規劃,實在非常短視。

過去,一般認為政制民主化,會使民粹政治抬頭,政客為了選票濫開選舉支票,導致公共開支大增。但是證諸曾蔭權政府7年,證明非普選產生的政府同樣民粹當道,浪費資源;梁振英政府首年未能擺脫派糖的窠臼,未來能否帶領市民戒掉「派糖癮」,會是檢驗梁振英政府施政成敗的一個重要指標。另外,本港將分期實施雙普選,民粹政治會否變本加厲,值得關注。

去年,唐英年與梁振英競逐特首,為爭取市民支持提高民望,唐英年率先表示若他當選,會每月給每名長者派3000元,梁振英立即跟進,每人每月派2200元,本月開始派發的長者生活津貼,緣由在此;本年度預算案社會福利經常開支高達560億元,較去年度增加30.5%,增幅為所有開支項目之冠,主要就是落實長者生活津貼所致,政府就此要多撥83億元,這是小圈子選舉特首也難逃派糖流弊的明證。若不予以正視,2017年普選特首,情况勢將惡化,納稅人將要為此付出更大代價。

政府不應亂花錢,政客、特首不應胡亂開政治支票,才是立法會議員發揮監督職能的議題,可惜據知明日就審議預算案的拉布,其中一個訴求是要政府「回水1萬元」,這樣的立法會,還可能寄予厚望?

Glossary

bottleneck﹕a delay in one stage of a process that makes the whole process take longer

palliative﹕an action, a decision, etc that is designed to make a difficult situation seem better without actually solving the cause of the problems

malady﹕a serious problem

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