Populist Governance No. 2

13 March 2008

Hong Kong’s Great Flu Kerfuffle

Hong Kong from the Peak on a summer’s night, by Stuck in customs, with Creative Commons licencePrimary school kids in Hong Kong must have been delighted today. A few have taken sick with influenza in recent times, so things have been a little glum. But the government can always pitch in and help. Late last night it did just that, announcing that the lower schools would close two days early for an extended Easter break. And this at a time when no more students than usual are suffering from seasonal maladies. Manna from Heaven!

So what gives?

Executive decisions made in dark of night are usually the bailiwick of third world dictators, but no self-respecting tyrant would bother to direct schools closed after a short run of outs with the flu. Even the somewhat ambivalent South China Morning Post editorial this morning mentioned that the reporting of flu-like symptoms has been a little down on average this year. The World Health Organisation backed that up, calling it “just regular seasonal flu”.

But the Standard, true to its sensationalist form, preferred to quote statistics on overflowing paediatric wards. And wavering towards the back of its print edition, the SCMP pointed out that around a thousand people die from the flu in Hong Kong every year.

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Mo’ Money

8 March 2008

Tax Breaks and Populist Governance in Hong Kong

Tax 稅, by hochitThe greatest delights are sometimes more food for thought that you might imagine. Next year I’ll pay almost no income tax, for the second year in a row. I don’t dodge tax – I’ve just been given a break. Thank you, Hong Kong. But multiply my windfall a few thousand times and what does it mean?

First, allow me to set the scene. On Wednesday last week, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary delivered his first budget. Not such an interesting event you might think, but this version had already been subjected to a long stretch of public debate. John Tsang had a sizable budget surplus of HK$115 billion to fling around, and everyone was looking for a piece of the action.

What finally stuck when the details hit the wall was an extension of last year’s offering – 75% reductions of income, profit and property taxation subject to HK$25,000 ceilings, and various small, once-off gestures, including a few welfare give-backs.

The Standard newspaper, in its slightly scatterbrain style, pronounced the Financial Secretary “Santa Tsang”.

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