Hong Kong's government on Wednesday announced a huge financial boost to the city's police force, which has faced widespread criticism for violence against protesters and abuse of power in recent months.
The police will benefit from HK$5.1 billion in additional spending, an increase of 25 percent compared with last year, to include funding for six new armored vehicles.
The police force will also receive a huge cash handout of HK$25.8 billion equivalent to HK$85,000 per officer, according to the annual budget released by financial secretary Paul Chan.
The city's police force had already received an additional HK$950 million in overtime pay and HK$135 million in allowances in the second half of 2019.
In addition, every permanent resident of Hong Kong over the age of 18 will receive a cash payout of HK$10,000 each.
The additional police funding will be used for more than 2,500 newly recruited officers, who will swell the ranks of 35,000 existing officers, among other things.
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the police were the biggest winners from budget, personal cash payouts notwithstanding.
"Does the Hong Kong government believe that the violence meted out to the people of Hong Kong was insufficient?" Yeung said. "They are getting more weapons?"
"The biggest winners in this budget are the police," he said.
"Everyone is focusing on the HK$10,000 payout, but they have seen a significant boost in their resources."
'We are disgusted'
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said the payout was intended as a reward to officers for doing the government's bidding during recent months of pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests.
"We are disgusted," Mo told government broadcaster RTHK. "RTHK ... has hardly got any increase in its expenditure, and it tells you what sort of favouritism they are playing when it comes to giving out money," she said.
Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai told the station: "The financial secretary has not responded to people's concerns, in particular about the brutality of the police force," Wu said.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan told the Legislative Council (LegCo) that Hong Kong will see a budget deficit of HK$139.1 billion next year, accounting for 4.8 percent of GDP.
The city's deficit reached HK$63.3 billion in 2004, the year after the SARS epidemic.
Hong Kong is in the middle of an economic downturn brought on by a China-U.S. trade war, the protest movement, and the coronavirus outbreak, Chan said.
'Bloodied, but not broken'
Amnesty International said in its 2019 annual report that Hong Kong protesters are 'bloodied but not broken' in the wake of abusive policing tactics for which the authorities have yet to be held accountable.
It said the Hong Kong protest movement, which began in June 2019 with mass popular opposition to extradition to mainland China, had demanded accountability in spite of increasingly harsh treatment by the authorities
Last month, eight victims of the attack sued the city's chief of police over the force's inaction over the Yuen Long mob attacks on train passengers on June 21, 2019.
Hong Kong police failed to respond to more than 24,000 emergency calls from the area as the white-shirted mob ran amok, bludgeoning passengers for 39 minutes before police arrived on the scene, leaving 45 people in hospital.
Video footage at the time showed police officers chatting to men who closely resembled the attackers.
Frontline protesters, eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights groups have repeatedly said that the majority of violence during the protests has originated with the Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for the excessive use of tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, as well as both non-lethal and live ammunition weapons on unarmed protesters.
Around one third of adults in Hong Kong have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the protest movement escalated last June, according to a mental health survey published in The Lancet, which said the incidence of psychiatric problems was similar to those usually associated with war zones or terrorist attacks.
Reported by Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Man Hoi-tsan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.