Opposing lawmakers say approved 2009 budget plan fails to reflect reality

Friday, December 19, 2008
Issue 562, Page 2
Word count: 526
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The 2009 budget plan was passed at the Legislative Assembly yesterday under some lawmakers’ criticism that a number of significant government expenditures such as cash handouts and the voluntary provident fund schemes were absent in the accounts.

According to the budget plan presented by the government on November 19, the total revenue and expenditure for the 2009 fiscal year were estimated at respectively 44.714 billion patacas and 43.975 billion patacas.

Secretary for Economy and Finance, Francis Tam Pak Yuen, said at that time during the Assembly that the surplus of 2009 would be estimated at some 739 million patacas.

However, in the actual bill passed on to the standing committee for deliberation, the amount of expenditure was shown at 44.714 billion patacas, which was inconsistent with what was said before and was the same as the proposed revenue.

Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San and Jose Pereira Coutinho were the three lawmakers who cast a vote against the passing of the bill in the plenary meeting at the Assembly.

In the joint statement announced by Ng and Au after the voting showed a favourable result to the government, the lawmakers pointed out the two different amounts of total expenditures presented, and said the passing of the budget plan meant that the administration would be able to use the 739 million pataca surplus “at any time without needing the Assembly’s future approval”.

In addition, Ng and Au said the budget plan “was made to have a superficial surplus balance”, as a number of huge expenditures already committed by the Chief Executive for 2009 had not been included in the accounts.

They included the cash handout scheme to Macau residents involving at least two billion patacas in the first half of 2009, the three billion patacas which would be injected by the government into the non mandatory provident fund program, as well as health vouchers and the four percent home mortgage interest subsidies.

According to the lawmakers, all those livelihood measures would turn the 2009 budget into a deficit of more than five billion patacas.

“It was not a complete budget plan,” the joint statement read.

Jose Pereira Coutinho, who is also the council president of the Macau Civil Servants Association, told the Assembly yesterday he opposed the passing of the bill as the government “forgot to adjust salaries of underpaid public servants”.

“The low-level staff has long been earning just 5,000 to 7,000 patacas a month which did not go with the pace of rising inflation, rents and commodities prices,” Coutinho said.

The lawmaker also said that the “complete failure” of the provident fund scheme made a lot of civil servants lose their life savings and thus their retirement lives were “no longer guaranteed”.

At the same time, Coutinho deemed the budget plan as a “blank cheque” since he said the large number of massive expenditures next year would see the need to use the accumulated government surplus.

The absence of some significant expenditure in the accounts attributed to the Legislative Council’s “lack of a proper assessment and analysis” on the 2009 budget plan, Coutinho added.

The budget plan will come into effect on January 1, 2009.

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