Spending the way out not an option

Editorial | Mary Ma 4 Oct 2019

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor looks set to invoke an ancient colonial law to ban the wearing of masks at protests.

That may deserve support if it can help put an end to the "unforgivable havoc" that Lam created in the first place.

Anti-mask laws are already in force elsewhere, including some western democracies where checks and balances exist.

The outstanding question is whether Lam has learnt from the havoc she unleashed and can avoid repeating mistakes of similar gravity.

In less than two weeks, Lam will present the policy address. This will be her first major speech since the SAR was gripped by a perpetual wave of increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police.

Will she follow poor advice to spend lavishly to try and put out the inferno?

District council elections are scheduled be held next month. Will Lam be misled by her so-called ruling allies to cancel the elections - a decision that would immediately result in an eruption of anger among even the moderate public and plunge the city to a new hellish low.

Far from defusing the crisis, both courses of action would deepen it. Those promoting these ill-conceived ideas must be naive, putting partisan interests ahead of Hong Kong.

The city is in the midst of its most serious crisis since the 1967 leftist riots when the British-ruled colony was rocked by homemade bombs and critics of the leftists were burnt alive. The public is now desperate for a return to peace and for efforts to be focused on reactivating the economy.

Fears are growing after retail traders reported double-digit drops in sales and credit rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody's downgraded their forecasts for the SAR.

In such challenging times, it is vital to maintain healthy public coffers so that, once the crisis is over and sanity returns, the administration will have the fiscal capability to stimulate the economy.

Lam will most likely regret it if she spends big money now - including another year of means-tested cash handouts for some - to prop up her popularity that has plummeted to its lowest point since she was sworn in two years ago.

When Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po reported dismal growth figures recently against the backdrop of the Sino-US trade war, the mainland's economic slowdown and the social unrest here, what he refrained from telling us was probably a warning that the SAR could be running into deficits very soon.

The SAR no longer has the means to consider itself as a big spender. Chan, as the official ultimately responsible for the SAR's financial health, is duty-bound to guide the government to adhere to financial prudence as required by the Basic Law.

The immediate task for Lam and her team remains the same: to press ahead with the peace-building dialogue regardless of initial setbacks and prevent the conflicts between protesters and police from escalating.

Unless peace-making is allowed to succeed, Hong Kong will be trapped at the bottom of the pit.

It would be even more unforgivable to do something to worsen the havoc after having already wreaked it.

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