SCMP Saturday, August 25, 2001

Finance chief calls for calm


Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung yesterday sought to play down the impact of tycoon Li Ka-shing's gloomy economic forecast.
The Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman painted a pessimistic outlook on Thursday, predicting middle-to-high income earners would lose their jobs while the economic downturn continued into next year. Mr Li also called for the scrapping of the subsidised Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) to boost the property market and economy.
But Mr Leung said: "I think the economy is not determined by remarks of an individual. I think [Mr Li] only reflects the facts he has perceived."
Mr Leung said although Hong Kong people had once been arrogant, he hoped the economic downturn did not cause them to lose their self-confidence entirely. "The two extremes are both wrong," he said.
Lawmakers, welfare groups and a Housing Authority member gave a hostile reaction to the call to axe the HOS, saying Mr Li was trying to pressure the Government out of self-interest.
In May, Mr Li said the scheme should be maintained, despite a decline in the property market, adding that the poor had to be looked after.
Veteran Housing Authority member Wong Kwan said: "Mr Li's [latest] comments show he ignores the needs and interests of the lower class."
He added that Mr Li's negative comments on the economy were "probably to talk down future land prices".
Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah refused to comment on Mr Li's statements yesterday.
Democratic Party legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said Mr Li's remarks added to his fears that Mr Leung would announce measures to benefit developers at the expense of the public.
The director of the Society for Community Organisation, Ho Hei-wah, agreed with Mr Chan: "He [Mr Li] simply intends to take advantage of the negative sentiments of negative-equity homeowners. He is canvassing support from this significant group to put pressure on government policy."
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa reiterated yesterday that the unemployment rate would go up while the economic downturn continued. He said the economic restructuring in Hong Kong might last for a couple of years and urged people to equip themselves better for the challenges brought by the changes.