John Tsang's comments lacking right spirit

John Tsang's comments lacking right spirit

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A protester urging the government to raise the minimum wage. Hong Kong has one of the biggest income gaps in the world.
Photo: Felix Wong/SCMP

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah received a lot of criticism for his recent blog on Hong Kong's current economic conditions. In it, he discussed how the International Wine and Spirits Fair, held at the Central harbourfront earlier this month, reflected the city's improving standard of living.

He said the increased number of stalls at the fair highlighted Hongkongers' growing taste for expensive alcohol. This pointed to the state of the city's economy, with fewer people living under the poverty line, he added.

I read his blog, and I thought that he raised several good points. These days, many small- and medium-sized enterprises were finding it very difficult to recruit staff, Tsang said.

Dishwashers were offered as much as HK$12,000 a month but that didn't mean people were willing to do it, he complained. He said wages need to be monitored because owners of small businesses will suffer from the increasing labour costs.

Despite the difficult economic conditions, Hong Kong's unemployment rate remained steady at around 3.3 per cent in the second of this year. These facts point to a possible improvement in living standards for the average Hongkonger in a city well known for its increasing wealth gap.

But I was disappointed that Tsang used a wine festival to launch his discussion on wages for low-skilled labourers and the problems faced by small businesses. Never mind the fact that it's well-off people who generally drink wine (think HK$250 or more for a bottle of good-quality wine), just getting to the fair will set you back at least HK$12, if you're living in Kowloon or the New Territories. Many poor people can't afford to make that trip.

The wine festival wasn't the best place to bring up such a controversial topic that affects a large number of people who could have otherwise enjoyed a (free) walk along the harbour.

While many locals complain about rising property prices, they don't matter to some people. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay plans to open two more restaurants in Hong Kong next year, despite concerns about high rents, while Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma Yun recently bought a HK$1.5 billion home on the Peak.

In Hong Kong, the "super-rich" make up only about one per cent of the population.

Tsang's comments at the wine festival hasn't helped him win over the hearts of Hongkongers.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Tsang's comments lacking right spirit

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