Hong Kong maintains rank as ‘world’s freest economy’

HONG KONG – Hong Kong has earned the top spot in a U.S. think tank’s index of the world’s freest economies for the 21st year in a row, despite scoring lower than previously due to eroding public trust amid perceptions of corruption.

In the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 report, Hong Kong scored 89.6 out of 100 points in overall economic freedom, down by 0.5 points from last year, the South China Morning reported Wednesday.

The decrease brought Hong Kong’s score closer to that of its rival Singapore, however, with only a 0.2-point difference separating the two.

The Foundation’s index used 10 quantitative and qualitative factors – including rule of law and regulatory efficiency -- to assess economic freedom in 186 countries.

While Hong Kong exhibited small advances regarding freedoms in the business, labor and fiscal areas, according to the report, such progress was offset by a rise in perceived corruption.

Dropping by 7.3 points, its score for “freedom from corruption” was recorded at 75 points – the lowest on record since the territory’s handover from Britain to Beijing in 1997.

Underlining the continued free flow of goods, services and capital in Hong Kong, the Foundation report said: "As the economic and financial gateway to China, and with an efficient regulatory framework, low and simple taxation, and sophisticated capital markets, the territory continues to offer the most convenient platform for international companies doing business on the mainland."

Commending how Hong Kong’s "impressive level of resilience" had enabled it to overcome global fluctuations and domestic trials, the report also warned that its uniqueness had "faded" somewhat, according to the Post.

"Although Hong Kong maintains the features of an economically free society, economic decision-making has become somewhat more bureaucratic and politicised, and the government's administrative scope and reach have expanded," the think tank report said.

"Recent political events appear to have undermined public trust and confidence in the administration," it added, in an apparent reference to more than two months of protests last year following by Beijing’s decision not to allow the free election of the city’s top official.

Hong Kong’s government welcomed the ranking, with the Post quoting a spokesperson as saying. "The government will continue to uphold our fine tradition of the rule of law, a clean society with a level playing field, an efficient public sector, and a simple tax regime with low tax rates."

Referring to the perceived corruption score, the spokesperson assured that it may have been affected by certain high-profile cases -- assuring that such incidences were "isolated since the levels of corruption in Hong Kong remain very low."

Late last year, former chief secretary Rafael Hui was sentenced alongside property tycoon Thomas Kwok for misconduct and bribery in the territory’s highest profile corruption case. 

The top four spots in the index went to countries in the Southeast Asia-Asia Pacific region, with New Zealand overtaking Australia for third place.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency