Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Hong Kong finance chief bickers with former governor

AFP , HONG KONG

A war of words has broken out between Hong Kong's finance chief and its last British governor over economic management of the territory, a media report said yesterday, bringing into the open long-standing resentments over the city's colonial past.

Financial Secretary Henry Tang (唐英年) went on the defensive after Chris Patten, who governed Hong Kong for five years until London ceded control of the city to Beijing in 1997, attacked plans to introduce a goods and service tax.

Patten said the proposal announced last week would lead to greater public spending.

In response Tang let fly with a barrage of criticism, accusing Patten of leaving Hong Kong ill prepared for the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s.

"He said Hong Kong is a very unique place where you can increase spending on welfare, cut taxes and at the same time have a fiscal surplus," Tang was quoted as saying in the Sunday Morning Post.

"This violates economic principles. And it was obvious: he patted his butt and left," added Tang, making use of a Cantonese colloquialism that refers to irresponsibility.

"Then we went through seven years of hardship. During the seven years, we have seen the Asian financial crisis. We have come to know that Hong Kong cannot violate the economic principles and escape unscathed," he said.

"The economic principle is very simple -- that you live within your means," Tang said.

Patten, meanwhile, appeared unfazed by Tang's outburst, reminding him that his predecessor at the time was none other than his present boss and the territory's leader, Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權).

"During my period while Donald was financial secretary, in every year we cut taxes, we increased spending, we increased the amount of money we had in reserve," Patten said.

"We built the airport and the surrounding infrastructure out of income, not out of borrowings," he said.

"If any other society managed to do that, the government would be in office forever," he said.

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