The Webb-site HKSAR Accounts Explorer

Introduction

Welcome to the Webb-site HKSAR Accounts Explorer.

The purpose of this work is to provide a new tool for researchers, journalists and the general public to better understand the HKSAR Government accounts over the period since 1st April 1998, the earliest date for which we could obtain online data, and the first full fiscal year of the Special Administrative Region. The data were mostly publicly available, but in annual snapshots rather than usable time series, making it difficult for the user to see a historic picture. We also obtained some data via information requests. Every data page in this service includes a CSV download link so that you can download and analyse the time series yourselves. Charts can also be downloaded as image files.

We present the consolidated cash accounts, excluding transfers between funds which are eliminated on consolidation. The official accounts comprise the General Revenue Account (GRA), the default account under Section 3 of the Public Finance Ordinance (PFO), together with 8 Funds established at various times under Section 29 of the PFO. We add a ninth fund, the Bond Fund, as well as the Housing Reserve, the returns on the Future Fund and the net surplus/(deficit) on the Exchange Fund (which pays returns to the other Funds), for a more complete picture, as explained below.

The GRA is mostly for operating income and expenditure, with minor capital expenditures. The 9 funds are:

The Government has also issued bonds via the CWRF, including so-called "Green Bonds". In the case of both the Bond Fund and the CWRF, we do not include the issue proceeds or the redemption payments in our consolidation, as those would distort the picture. Interest payments and expenses, or in the case of Sukuk "Periodic distribution payments", are shown on a separate line, as these represent an expense for earning the related income.

Investment income

We have extracted the investment income from the GRA and the 9 Funds, and shown it separately under the "Investment income" heading. Almost all of the investment assets of these accounts are held with the Exchange Fund (EF) run by the HK Monetary Authority.

The Bond Fund receives a return on its assets from the Exchange Fund so we need to include that return to get the full picture of investment income, although the Government excludes it from the official consolidation.

Also under "investment income" we add movements in the "Housing Reserve" (HR) and the "Future Fund" (FF), which were retained off-books as liabilities of the EF rather than booked to the official accounts.

Housing Reserve

The HR, established on 18-Dec-2014, a bit of accounting magic created by retaining in the EF the investment income on the fiscal reserves for 2 years to 31-Mar-2016, plus subsequent investment returns, reducing the reported Government surplus, purportedly "earmarked" for future expenditure on Public Housing construction, because the Government continues to believe it should be a landlord rather than just provide rental subsidies to the poor.

In the Budget Speech on 27-Feb-2019, the next Financial Secretary announced that the HR would be returned to the General Revenue account over 4 years to 31-Mar-2023, thereby reducing the reported consolidated deficit (or increasing the surplus) unless the policy changes again. So the HR represents a deferral of income, and our presentation returns that to an as-earned basis.

The Future Fund

The FF was announced on 25-Feb-2015 in the 2015-16 Budget Speech, following a second report by the Working Group on Long-Term Fiscal Planning established in 2013. This entailed allocating the entire HK$219.7bn balance of the Land Fund to the FF. Details of the FF were announced on 18-Dec-2015, stating that half of the FF would pursue "more aggressive returns" (i.e., take more risk) for an initial 10-year period from 1-Jan-2016, by becoming part of the EF's "Long Term Growth Portfolio" (LTGP), including private equities and on-HK investment properties. The other half is invested by the EF as normal.

The announcement stated that "a structural deficit could surface within a decade or so should government expenditure growth keep exceeding Gross Domestic Product and revenue growth". This clearly contemplates a deliberate double-breach of Basic Law Article 107 which states:

"107. The [HKSAR] shall follow the principle of keeping the expenditure within the limits of revenues in drawing up its budget, and strive to achieve a fiscal balance, avoid deficits and keep the budget commensurate with the growth rate of its gross domestic product." (our italics)

Investment income on the FF is retained as a liability of the EF rather than booked to the Land Fund. Effective 1-Jul-2016, HK$4.8bn of the reserve of the General Revenue Account was allocated to the FF as a "top-up".

In 2020, HK$19.5bn (US$2.5bn) of the LF's portion of the FF, plus HK$38.865m (US$5m) of expenses, was used to bail out Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) from losses largely inflicted by Government pandemic policies, with an issue of Preference shares and Warrants to Aviation 2020 Ltd.

On 26-Feb-2020, together with the 2020-21 Budget Speech, the Financial Secretary announced that 10% of the FF would be invested in "projects with a Hong Kong nexus" as a "Hong Kong Growth Portfolio", thereby including HK within the scope of the FF for the first time, following recommendations by a 4-man Group of Experienced Leaders led by Victor Fung Kwok King. A Governance Committee, including Mr Fung, was established on 30-Sep-2020. On 3-Sep-2021, the Government announced that 3 unnamed private equity firms had been appointed, followed by another 5 announced on 30-Dec-2021. We filed an Information Request asking for the names of these firms, but the Government refused to tell us.

The Exchange Fund

In the official accounts, the rate at which income is credited from the EF to the fiscal reserves is based on an arbitrary formula determined by the Financial Secretary, and has changed over the years. The remaining surplus/deficit is held by the EF, which is owned by the Government. So you only get a full picture if you add the surplus/deficit of the EF to the official accounts, which we do. The EF has a December year-end, so we use that in the Government's following March accounts. From calendar 2000 to 2003, the HK Monetary Authority did not publish group accounts before resuming in 2004, so we add the attributable profits of subsidiaries for 2000-2002 to the Fund-only accounts, and make a final adjustment in 2002 (accounting year Mar-2003) to bring the accumulated consolidated surplus into line.

Sources and methods

The Government has begun releasing its accounts in machine-readable format, but these only go back to the year ended 31-Mar-2015. We've managed to add 16 years to that. For the GRA's revenue, expenses by-head and by-component, we went through all the online Government Accounts PDFs for 12 years, starting with the year ended 31-Mar-2003, converting them by hand and importing them. Then we went to the Budget Estimates and compiled data on 4 more years, back to the year beginning 1-Apr-1998, the first complete fiscal year after the Handover of sovereignty.

Over that long period, government bureaux and departments (B&Ds) have been merged and split numerous times. We show the current arrangement of the B&Ds, with any defunct B&Ds underneath them, to provide, as near as possible, comparable accounts for revenue and expenditure over time.

For the Capital Works Reserve Fund, we imported machine-readable data back to 2014-15 and added data from PDFs back to 2007-08, which is why there is more detail form that year onwards, down to individual projects. Want to see the expenditure on mountain bike trails in Lantau? It's in there. Before 2007-08, the PDFs combined English and Chinese text into one file, so extracting the data would be more tedious and we haven't done it.

We also found some summary accounts in the online Gazette back to 2000, which includes the comparative year to 31-Mar-1999.

We added detail from other sources, including the Inland Revenue Department's annual reports, so for example, we have a history of daytime horse race Betting Duty back to 1998-99.

We sourced a breakdown of Social Security Allowances from the "Social Welfare Services in Figures"" leaflets, including those rescued from archive.org, as SWD only keeps the latest year on its website. The one-off allowances since 2010-11 are not included in the main line for CSSA/SSA, they are in the "General Non-recurrent" line. We have filed an information request for a breakdown of the allowances in the recurrent and non-recurrent lines.

We obtained a breakdown of revenue from "dutiable commodities" under an Information Request from the Customs and Excise Department. For example, you can see duty on cigars,, but this was only available on a gross basis, so the figures are slightly larger than the net totals after refunds. The department only kept data for the last 10 years from 2011-12 onwards.

For some items, the time series stops abruptly because the responsibility has been transferred to a different Department or Bureau, or because a dedicated off-balance-sheet fund has been endowed to take it forward. In the GRA up to 2003-04, subventions to various "non-departmental public bodies" were shown under a single heading. After that, they were transferred to various Bureaus/Departments.

We have not adjusted any of these data for inflation, or for population growth (showing per capita figures). Those are on our to-do list but relatively easy for you to do with the CSV downloads, so it is left as an exercise for the reader. We do provide the option of showing results as a share of GDP, keeping in mind Basic Law Article 107 which requires the HKSAR to "keep the budget commensurate with the growth rate of its gross domestic product". Spoiler alert: it hasn't. GDP data are collected from the Census and Statistics Department.

Limitations

The Government's cash accounts do not directly show the annual revenue and expenditure of various statutory bodies such as the Airport Authority, Housing Authority, Urban Renewal Authority and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, although they do show the cash amounts invested in, granted to, or loaned to, such bodies. Being cash accounts, they also do not show the value of land transferred to such bodies.

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Not sure where to start? The search button at the top of this page lets you dive in with a keyword or two to search over 5,000 lines of accounting data.


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