Madam President, the problems that beset Hong Kong now are far from unique. Right across the world, in countries as diverse as Argentina or Japan, governments are grappling with economic woes for which it seems that at present, there is no end in sight.

Of course, it is disheartening for our citizens to hear the stark facts spelled out once again in this year's policy speech. We had become so accustomed to ever-growing prosperity in the '80s and early '90s with increased fiscal reserves that of all the people in the world, we are perhaps the least adapted to cope with economic downturn.

That may be why there has been a generally negative response to the Chief Executive's speech. Critics seem to expect the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region could come up with answers to external problems like a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat. Fiscal problems are not so simple. This is a changing world. It is in the process of becoming one vast global market with ever-fiercer competition and we must adapt to it or go under it. That means economic restructuring on a major scale, and that takes time. It means making our economy leaner and fitter, more keen-edged, more streamlined, and it also means greater sacrifices from many of us.

Naturally, that is not the kind of message that Hong Kong wants to hear. But it is undoubtedly the way forward. When we are facing a predicted deficit of over $70 billion this year, we must welcome every move that the Government makes to reduce spending and increase revenue — no matter how painful or distasteful that may be.

The Liberal Party has been urging action to reduce expenditure on the Civil Service for a long time, and we are relieved to learn of plans for a 10% reduction in staff numbers. We are also very encouraged by the news that civil servants are willing to accept a pay cut if necessary. At time of crisis, we must all do whatever we can to help, and we would hope that, in consultation with the Civil Service, the precise details will be announced in the Budget speech in March, when we will be able to learn many more details of the plans announced in the policy speech.

In view of the huge budget deficit projected last year, next year's Budget is the time to impose tax increases, but also a cutback in civil service pay to bring it back to the 1997 level, which would be perfectly fair, given that we have suffered a 13% deflation in the same period. There has been enough time to prepare for this, and we cannot afford to prevaricate any longer. If there are reasons for further delay, then they should be clearly explained. At the same time, it should be emphasized that whenever the cuts are decided, they will be backdated to 1 April 2003, the exact same date for tax increases.

I believe that this is fair and what the public wants, and what the majority of civil servants should accept as necessary and helpful to our economy in a time of need.

Madam President, the rest of us face the unpalatable prospect of small increases in taxes — another necessary evil in troubled times. Hong Kong is celebrated for its low and simple tax base, and we must strive to keep it that way, or lose one of the greatest selling points in attracting both local and foreign investments here. But however much we deplore increases in salaries or profits tax, or land and sea departure taxes, we can take comfort from the promise that the rises will be small, although the contribution that the extra revenue will make to reduce our deficit will be meaningful.

Just as crucial are moves to attract more investors, from abroad and inland. An inflow of new blood from the Mainland, allowing young professionals and entrepreneurs and their families to settle here and benefit from all the expertise and knowledge that a world city like ours can offer, will revitalize the dynamism and enthusiasm which has been lacking here lately. And if the new task force to improve Hong Kong's business environment is made up of people at the sharp end, who know from personal experience where the obstacles are, and what needs to be done to make things better, then it should come up with some positive and constructive ideas to attract investment and create new jobs.

So long as Hong Kong returns to the policy of "big market, small government" and continues to be celebrated for its free flow of information, it will always attract venture capital and be the best place in South East Asia to set up regional headquarters.

Madam President, these are testing times, but the difficulties are not insurmountable. We are still extremely strong in fundamentals. Our infrastructure, our people's know-how, our rule of law, our freedom of expression, efficient port facilities and our unrivalled strengths in finance, tourism and logistics equip us to ride out the present storm. Adding to that, we have the backing of China, which continues to forge ahead even in the present very challenging global economic crisis.

If the policy speech did not produce an immediate panacea for all economic ills, that is because recovery will take time and will be a gradual process rather than an overnight cure, especially when our society is determined to keep the currency pegged to the US dollar. If people look beyond the present woes to the long-term prospects, they will see a far brighter picture. We have the Disney Theme Park in full steam, there are 20 new hotels in the pipeline to cope with Hong Kong's growing popularity as a tourist destination — a fact that comes not from the Government, but no less an authority than the World Tourism Organization — and we have no lack of visionary ideas and big thinking in proposals like the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai bridge, which is undergoing a feasibility study by the State Development Planning Commission.

Madam President, if that can be concluded quickly, it will chime in perfectly with the positive moves that are underway to link us ever closer to Guangdong and the many cities of the Pearl River Delta. The plans are there, the prospects are extremely positive. But we must be a bit more patient and, above all, optimistic. Behind the sombre words of the policy speech, that is the real message: The economy will recover, the jobs will come, provided that everyone in Hong Kong is prepared to do his or her bit for Hong Kong.



有社會人士質疑,如果國內專才來港工作,會否把香港人的“飯碗”搶去?據我瞭解,現在上海的一些專才,如果是大學畢業和有10年工作經驗的專業人士,一般都可賺取二三萬人民幣的工資,在上海有如此工資水平的話,幾乎等於香港六七萬元的工資水平。所以,這些人才是要經過我們游說和吸引來港的,我們亦應表示歡迎他們來港,而不是查問他們為何要申請來港工作,像害怕他們會把香港人的“飯碗”搶掉,我覺得政府可以在這方面做一些宣傳工作。有人認為,香港這麼好,為何還要宣傳呢?最近,美國數所名校,包括Cornell University的校長都到香港來,游說香港學生到其學校升學。我問他們,既然這些學校的當地學生收生比例幾乎是100比1,為何還來香港作宣傳呢?他們的回應是:無論我們怎樣好,也還有需要在全世界繼續宣傳自己的學校的。我覺得香港亦必須採取此態度,不要以為我們有了輸入專才的計劃,便可以靜待國內的專才來申請。過了1年了,我們可發覺好像沒有太多國內專才申請來港。其實,現在希望來港的國內人士已不及1995至97年或更早年代的人數多,希望政府留意這點。





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