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期待香港 21 世紀的公共財政體系 Far more than fiscal incentives, Hong Kong deserves a system of public finance founded on 21st century values.

2018/3/6 — 8:30

陳茂波

陳茂波

香港不僅需要財政激勵措施,更應有一個依據 21 世紀價值觀的公共財政體系

(編按: Evan 認為,現在是時候讓政府了解:稅收不僅關乎公共財政,而是個完整體系,能代表我們希望能維繫社會的價值觀。擴大稅基不一定要增加稅收,而是建立更公平的制度,去妥善解決我城眾多的社會和結構問題,代表未來世代的價值觀。中文版本由 Ben 翻譯,英文原文在譯文之下。)

Evan argues that it is time the government understand taxation as more than about public finances, but as a complete system representative of the values on which we wish our society to be built. Broadening the tax base does not mean raising taxes, but having a system that is fairer, better able to address many of the cities’ social and structural problems, and more representative of the values of our future generations.

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廣告

政府的 2018 年財政預算案廣受歡迎。當庫房盈餘幾乎多到令人尷尬時,財政司司長陳茂波這陣子可謂滿面春風。

去年香港經濟增長了 3.7% ,通貨膨脹率則下降到 1.7% 。政府收入繼續增長,上一財政年度錄得 1,380 億港元盈餘,創下紀錄。

廣告

香港現有 1.1 萬億港元儲備,另外還有 3.6 萬億港元外匯基金。對全球任何一個城市,實際上對大多數主權國家而言,這些都是驕人數字。

然而,對一個自詡在金融方面觸覺敏銳、公務員服務非常專業的城市來說,財政司司長陳茂波及其助理團、一眾顧問和副局長,他們對未來幾年的如意算盤,不過是又一次無關大局的改變措施。這一切不都是意料中事嗎?

即使在陳茂波認為對未來經濟至關重要的兩個領域(創新科技和持續進修),所謂公共投資其實只是給貧困學生一次過發放二千元津貼,另外給我們的大白象(科技園區)多餵一輪飼料。

那些對數碼港培育計劃刮目相看的人,不妨考慮以下事實:當科技公司開始聚集在倫敦東區的科技城(又稱矽環島)或柏林的矽鋁大道時,數碼港在香港已出爐了至少 5 年,不斷宣傳自己是「科技中心」。可是此刻,就連中國的北京和上海都早已超越香港,建立了貨真價實的科技中心,享譽全球。

起碼,陳茂波勝在不管眾多頭髮灰白的精英分子,無視他們想要真金白銀的現金回贈的直截要求,這種渴望「派錢」的自利心態未免使人尷尬。

這個政府與之前其他政府一樣,不懂得財政及以之為基礎的稅收制度,並非單純是經濟問題,也是社會和哲學問題。

去年年底,我很榮幸受友 Stefano Mariani 所託,看了他寫的一份稅制改革意見書,然後提出反饋。他是久居香港的律師,專門處理稅收事項,但他不是一般的執業律師,而是具有深厚哲學素養的學者,無愧於他所受的學術訓練。

我們兩個都同意一點,稅制是否成功,不是僅以數字來衡量。 除了稅收水平和政府財政支出外,我們還必須問:稅制本身是否代表我們現今的社會,而更重要的,是否代表我們希望見到的社會。

世界各地正醞釀變化,大家也有目共睹。 從《巴拿馬文件》曝光引起全球公眾強烈抗議,到老派馬克思主義者(像伯尼‧桑德斯 [Bernie Sanders] 、傑里米‧科比恩 [Jeremy Corbyn])重新得勢,開始在政壇崛起,顯示任何人談論自由主義世界秩序終結,其實都與自由主義的人文價值基礎無關。

這情況對年輕人尤其如是,他們越來越多人受過教育,對上一輩看重金錢利益的作為,已不甘盲從,他們現在所抱持的「價值」觀念較具有哲學意味。

正如 Steven Pinker 不斷著書立說,告訴大家發達國家其實比我們所以為的更富人道與仁愛。他在新書《當今的啟蒙:論證理性、科學、人文及進步之正確》中說,今天的年輕人,是歷史上最受「啟蒙」的人,是最懂得體諒他人的一代,卻未必是最受關懷的一代。金錢可能仍然很重要,但錢怎樣賺來也不可忽視。他們越來越來覺得稅收不只是經濟問題,同時也關乎道德;國家是否發達,也不在其經濟規模,而在如何理解稅收所依據的價值基礎。

在香港,一方面是民主不足,另一方面是中國民族主義抬頭,令社會和價值問題具有了政治色彩。但是,稅收和價值觀的關係,若未被人完全忽略,還有待大家去闡明,這情況對整個社會有害無利。

正如 Mariani 最近在《南華早報》上寫道:

 [...]稅收必定成為政治問題。民間團體和立法會議員要是關心香港經濟未來的持續發展,就有義務敦促政府闡明將如何解決香港稅法的結構性失衡,以確保稅法所反映的,不再是我城昔日的資金需求,而是我們希望見到的我城日後的需求。

香港現在可算是個中國城市,但我城的建立本離不開國際關係,這些關係並非只是經濟聯繫。

香港的價值觀曾以難民社會的實事求是及靈活應變為主。然而,價值就像人和環境一樣,不會一成不變;隨著香港人開始紮根,社會邁向繁榮,我們的價值觀也逐漸成熟 與其他中國城市相比,香港人受益於開明政府,享受著相對自由,所以現在人們的神態已印證了英國小說家福斯特 (E. M. Forster) 筆下的形容:「眼中流露出成熟的神色」。

香港今天也是個先進發達的經濟體,很多潛力已發展出來。我們的社會日益受到第一世界常見的問題所困擾,如工資水平沒有提高,工作日益缺乏安全保障,職業晉升前景有限。香港社會和經濟的階層分化,特別來勢洶洶,部分歸因於過往的殖民地歷史,碌碌無能的領導班子,還有後殖民地時代政治遭受閹割的異常局勢。

所有這些都對年輕人造成了畸形影響,正如2014年的連串示威所示,年輕一代大多擁有相同的理想、堅守許多相同的核心價值。

任何在佔中期間到過金鐘探視的人,不問政見如何,只要明白事理,都會和世界各地媒體一樣,注意到參與運動的人思想傾向都很平和。除了日本漫畫和美國漫威的英雄偶像外,最常見的就是甘地和馬丁路德金的照片和語句。

事實上,示威組織者坦言承認他們以美國民權運動為先例,以其理想為靈感。他們這一代的獨特選擇,與上一代的民主派迥然有別,因為民主派很自然會回溯自己的歷史,朝向上世紀 80 年代後期的中國學生民主運動。

若憑後見之明來判斷,我們年輕的理想主義者的行為,可說是弄巧反拙。他們故意藐視宣誓,不守協議,激起公憤,可能很不明智——特別是當這些理想主義者佔據了道德高地,論點有利於他們時。然而,年輕人的政治行徑已完全掩蓋了前人留下的那些以理性和尊重為主、較溫和的政治表現。

如果訴諸行動仍會惹出問題,那麼訴諸理想該沒有爭議。即使在建制之內,無論是政黨內還是黨外精英,大家至少還會公認那些正義公平的理想,以及為民發聲的代議制,仍須是他們要傳達的政治信息。既然這些有權勢的人渴望自保,我們就不應光看他們精神上堅持的理想,而要按我們自己的想法來監督。不然,他們總是以這種方式來清洗良知:須知暴君每每認為自己就是啟蒙與開明的化身。

柏拉圖是古典思想中最不會感情用事的人,他寫道:

當徵收所得稅時,相同的收入,正義的人會多交稅,而不正義的人會少交稅。

這是因為在權力體系和稅收制度之間,在稅收與我們本然了解的正義之間,有一種內在聯繫,與法律無關,而是公民抗命的哲學基礎核心。這就是為什麼合法地逃避正義者應繳稅的人,以及協助他們走「法律罅」的人,雖不算罪犯,卻可算騙子。

不妨看看柏拉圖或任何明白事理的人,怎樣面對一個容許漏洞和灰色地帶存在的制度,是很有趣的。在這樣的制度內,有些幸運兒懂得鑽空子,而令自己「減少」納稅。

至於香港稅制有一點非常不公平,明眼人一看就知。我們的公共財政體系,在理想和需要兩方面,都與提供財政的社會失去平衡。香港很多層面均陷於分化,這些社會、政治或經濟的分歧,都無法靠將寶牒拋上許願樹上就可消弭。

Mariani 提出了三項修正,雖簡單卻能使預算案轉移重點。他建議的不是增加稅收,而是根據現有稅收水平擴大稅基,並針對那些理應繳稅的可觀資產下手,這樣才可稍稍減輕大多數港人面臨的社會問題。

他建議:

首先,在出售住宅物業時應引入資本利得稅,而該物業並非賣方的主要居所。

第二,對空置住宅物業的持有人,應徵收單一年度稅,以抑制投機活動,令租賃市場降溫。

第三,匯出香港境外或在本港開銷的離岸股息,應予以徵稅,如此可解決目前的荒謬情況:即居港僱員的工資要繳納薪俸稅,但居港投資者從離岸公司獲得的股息卻不用納稅。

 一份勾勒出稅制改革論點的建議書,已於上月由公民黨立法會議員郭榮鏗,交給財政司司長陳茂波。該文件根據目前香港的社會環境和價值,提出了上述三項措施。

可是香港金融發展局和稅務局的回應,都是不置可否。

我們希望有更多立法會議員 無論屬於各政黨或持有各種政見,甚至包括代表國家政府立場的人士,加入討論稅收改革。若香港和內地的不同稅制將會簡化,那就讓我們從今天起,討論如何精簡稅制最有效。眼下全國密鑼緊鼓,力求人民對腐敗政黨重拾信心,讓我們也象徵式地步其後塵,結束一個不平衡的稅收制度。這制度大大阻礙了香港社會階層的流動,令我城的希望變得春意闌珊。就讓這些建議為大家展開對話吧。

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The government’s 2018 budget address has generally been positively received. Paul Chan, the Financial Secretary, glows in an almost embarrassment of riches.

Last year the economy grew by 3.7 per cent, whilst inflation fell to 1.7 per cent. Government revenues continue to grow, and a record surplus of HK$138 billion was recorded for the last financial year. 

Hong Kong now has HK$1.1 trillion in reserves, and another HK$3.6 trillion in the Exchange Fund. For any city in the world — indeed for most sovereign states — these would be outstanding figures.

And yet for a city that prides itself on a mix of financial acumen and professional civil service, the best that Financial Secretary Paul Chan and his team of assistants, advisors and under-secretaries could muster for the coming year’s budgets have, in short, been yet another round of small change policies. How very predictable this has all become.

Even in the two areas Chan identified as critical to the future economy, in start-up tech businesses and continuing education, public investment will in effect amount to a one-off HK$2000 grant for poor students and yet another round of investment in the white elephants that are our science and technology parks.

For those impressed by the incubation programmes offered by Cyberport, it is worth considering this: Cyberport was built, promoted and supposedly a “technology hub” at least 5 years before tech companies began to cluster around London’s Silicon Roundabout or Berlin’s Silicon Allee. Even nationally, Beijing and Shanghai have long overtaken Hong Kong in this regard, and have successfully established genuine centres of technological excellence with a global reputation.

Chan can at least be credited with ignoring the embarrassingly self-serving and unsophisticated calls among many of our greying elite for a cash rebate.

What this administration, like others before it, fails to understand is that government finances, and the system of taxation on which it is founded, is not purely an economic issue. It is also social and philosophical.

Late last year I was privileged to be asked to provide feedback on a draft positioning paper on tax reform prepared by Stefano Mariani, a friend and a leading Hong Kong based revenue lawyer. Mariani is no ordinary practicing lawyer, but understands the law with a philosophical pedigree worthy of his academic background. 

The point on which we agree is that the success of a system of taxation is not just to be measured in numbers. Beyond the level of taxation and how government finances are spent, we must also ask whether the system of taxation itself is representative of the society we have become and, more importantly, the type of society we wish to be.

It is also clear that around the world change is afoot. From the global public outcry following the release of the Panama and Paradise Papers to the resurgence and relative political success of old-school Marxists like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, any discussion of the end of the liberal world order clearly has little to do with the foundations of liberal, humanist values. 

This is especially true among the young, an increasing number of whom are educated, and for whom deference to the more mercenary interests of the past have been replaced by a more philosophical notion of “value”.

As Steven Pinker has seemingly made a career propounding, the developed world is a far more humane place than we give it credit. The young people of today, he writes in his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, are the most “enlightened” in history; the most considerate generation if not necessary the most considered. Money may still be important, but so too is how it is earned. For them, taxation is increasingly understood as being as much a moral as economic issue; and development defined less by the size of an economy as by the values on which this understanding is based.

In Hong Kong, where a democratic deficit is coupled with rising Chinese nationalism, such social and value-based issues are also political. However, it is a connection if not completely overlooked then yet to be articulated, much to the detriment of society as a whole.

As Mariani wrote recently in the South China Morning Post:

[…] Taxation must become a political issue. Both civil society and Legco members interested in a sustainable future for Hong Kong’s economy have a duty to press the government to explain clearly how it envisages tackling the structural imbalances in Hong Kong’s tax laws and ensure that these begin to reflect the funding needs of the city not as it was, but as we wish it to be.

Hong Kong may now be a Chinese city, but we are also a city founded on international connections. These connections are not only economic.

Hong Kong values may once have been centred around the pragmatism and flexibility of a refugee society. But values, like people and circumstances, change — and as Hong Kong people began to take root and society prosper, so too have our values matured. More so than in any other Chinese city, the people of Hong Kong, having benefitted from the relative freedom of a liberal government, have now what E.M. Forster once described as “that grown up look in their eyes.”

Hong Kong is also now an advanced and developed economy, with much of its inherent potential developed. Our society suffers increasingly from first-world problems, including wage stagnation, rising job-insecurity and limited career prospects. Social and economic stratification has set in particularly hard in this city, due in part to our colonial history, inept leadership and the unusual situation of our post-colonial political castration. 

All of these factors disproportionately affect the young, who share, as the protests of 2014 demonstrated, much of the same idealism and many of the same core values of their generation. 

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, any reasonable visitor to the Occupy Central site in Admiralty would have noted, as the world’s press did, its peaceful ideological foundations. Beside the knights of Manga and Marvel were the images and quotes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

In fact, the protest organisers made no secret that they drew as inspiration on the precedent and ideals of the American civil rights movement  — a peculiar choice and one very different to democrats of a generation before, who looked more naturally towards their own history and the national pro-democracy student movements of the late 1980s. 

The actions of our youthful idealist may be judged, with hindsight, to have been counter-productive. It may prove to be unwise to have deliberately shaken the hornet’s nest by belittling oaths and failing to respect protocols — especially when holding the moral high ground and with the argument in your favour. And yet it has been their politics that has so completely overshadowed the more moderate politics of reason and respect that had been our inheritance.

If in action questions remain, surely though not in ideals. Even within the establishment, both in the party and among our own elites, there is at least public recognition that ideals of justice, fairness and of representation must be central to their own political message. Therefore, since those in power are eager to protect their advantage, such liberal ideals must be presented not in spirit but under the scrutiny of our own motivations. Otherwise they will cleanse their conscience in their usual way: the tyrant always perceives himself as epitomising enlightenment.

Plato, the least sentimental of classical minds, wrote:

When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.

For there exists an intrinsic connection between systems of power and taxation; between taxation and what we by our nature understand as justice. This is regardless of law, and is central to the philosophical underpinning of civil disobedience. It is why those who legally evade paying their fair dues, and those who assist them, may not be criminals but may still be cheats.

It is interesting to consider what Plato, or indeed any reasonable person, would make of a system that allows there to be loop-holes and grey areas by which the more fortunate may “reduce” paying tax on their own good fortune.

That there is something deeply unfair about Hong Kong’s tax system is obvious to most. So it might be said that our system of public finances is out of balance in both ideal and in need with the society from which it draws. Hong Kong is deeply divided on many levels, and these divisions, whether social, political or economic, cannot be wished away throwing coins into a wishing well.

Mariani suggests three amendments that are simple and yet represent an important shift in emphasis. What he proposes is not to increase taxation, but to increase the tax base in line with existing levels of taxation, and targeting potentially taxable assets that would go some way to alleviating genuine social problems faced by many in our city.

His proposals are:

Firstly, a capital-gains tax should be introduced on the disposal of residential property which is not the principal residence of the vendor.

Second, a flat annual tax should be levied on the holding of vacant residential property to discourage speculation and to cool down the rental market.

Third, offshore dividends that are remitted or spent in Hong Kong should be taxed, thereby eliminating the currently absurd situation whereby the salary of a resident employee is chargeable to salaries tax, but a dividend received by a resident investor from an offshore company is not.

A proposition paper outlining the arguments for reforming the tax system in line with thenew social conditions and values of Hong Kong today, and suggesting these three

measures, was put to Financial Secretary Paul Chan last month by Civic Party Legislator Dennis Kwok.

In response the Financial Services and Tax Bureau have been non-committal.

Let us hope that the case for tax reform is taken up by more of our legislators, of all parties and political positions, including those representing our national government. If the differing tax regimes of Hong Kong and the Mainland are to be streamlined, let us now begin discussing by what process might this be best achieved. As measures are taken nationally to restore public confidence in a corrupt party, let us symbolically do the same by ending a tax system that is imbalanced and that contributes significantly to the breakdown in social mobility and hope within our city. Let this be the start of the conversation. 

發表意見