Following is the full text of the speech (English only) by the Financial Secretary, Mr Donald Tsang, at the Leader of the Year 2000 Award Presentation and Gala Dinner tonight (March 27):
Mr [Charles] Ho, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here tonight for this prestigious award ceremony, and I would like to congratulate Sing Tao Daily and Hong Kong iMail for organising this very important annual event. An event that has honoured Hong Kong's leaders since 1994.
There's an old saying that to be a leader you have to keep your ears to the ground. But Winston Churchill's response to that was "the nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture". Fortunately the leaders we are here to honour tonight haven't had to resort to such unusual tactics!
In today's global environment, success does not come easily. It depends on the efforts of many people in many disciplines. And that is certainly true of Hong Kong. But in any society there are always individuals who stand out in the crowd as leaders in their own field. The Leader of the Year 2000 recognises those individuals and rewards them. With such a wide choice of candidates this year, I can only imagine the judges have had a very difficult time in selecting the winners.
The key elements in making a good leader include an ability to turn weakness into strength, obstacles into stepping stones, and disaster into triumph. I believe these elements present an enormous challenge to today's global leaders. And in their own way, they are the qualities found in the recipients of tonight's Leader of the Year awards. While they may not have had to turn disaster into triumph, they have been faced with challenges which they have turned into opportunities. They have achieved their goals through hard work, perseverance, knowledge and an ability to communicate. To bring out the best in the people working with them. In other words leading by example.
Indeed, Hong Kong would not be where it is today without its highly motivated and entrepreneurial people. Although the past few years have been tough on everyone, we haven't lost our flair for innovation or for making things happen. But the rapid restructuring of our economy - from its over-reliance on capital asset inflation to the new economy and its emphasis on innovation and technology - has left us with a serious shortage of qualified professional people. The future leaders of Hong Kong.
Of course, we're not alone in this. Many other economies are being similarly affected. That's why I thought it was an opportune time tonight to further explore my budget proposal to revive the scheme to allow Mainland professionals to live and work in Hong Kong and help overcome a knowledge gap that has the potential to hinder our economic development.
But first, let me fill in some of the background. As we develop a knowledge-based economy, we have to continually upgrade the systems through which our citizens can acquire and apply new skills. This is particularly so in information technology if we are to ride the next wave of the information revolution as the Cyberport and Science Park come on stream.
We have put in place a comprehensive policy to try to overcome the shortage and to ensure a stable supply of quality manpower. We have put more resources into training and retraining programmes. We have intensified efforts to improve information technology skills. We are using IT to turn our schools into dynamic and innovative learning institutions.
At present, there are some 6,600 degree level and above students in our UGC-funded universities and another 7,000 sub-degree level students at the Institute of Vocational Education pursuing information technology courses. On the surface, these figures might seem quite impressive. But statistics don't always tell the whole story. The numbers still fall far short of the future demand. A consultancy study has indicated that by 2005 the shortfall of IT manpower at degree level could reach 14,000, based on high-end estimates.
So, while we continue to invest heavily in education to provide our students with the right skills and knowledge for the information age, we can't train our students over night. It takes time, especially when degree courses run for three years or more. Meanwhile, a continuing shortage of skilled professionals affects our competitiveness and our attractiveness to multinationals as a city in which to establish a regional presence.
For these reasons, we need to implement additional measures to overcome the immediate problems until the longer term strategy comes into play. I can understand the concerns some people have expressed about the possible impact on local job opportunities in opening the door to more graduates and professionals from the Mainland. But the scheme will not deprive our local professionals or local graduates of jobs. Salaries will not be reduced. The excellent facilities at our tertiary institutions will not be affected. And education will still remain the single biggest expenditure item in the budget. By overcoming the shortage of skilled professionals in the IT and financial services sectors we will be boosting Hong Kong's economic development and helping businesses to grow. This, in turn, will help create more job opportunities, not reduce them.
It does seem a little ironic that there is so much comment on our plans to revive the Admission of Mainland Professionals scheme when there are generally no restrictions on the entry for employment of foreign professionals with the right skills. We make a point of promoting ourselves as the gateway to China. And many international companies base their operations here for that very reason. However, we seem to strike resistance when we try to bring in the skilled professionals from the Mainland who will, both directly and indirectly, assist these companies, and Hong Kong, to improve the services we can offer. These professionals will help us to prepare for the increased business activity and the increased competition after China joins the WTO.
We have always been proud of the fact that we are a free and open society - a society that readily accepts people from other places. And for good reason. They contribute so much in helping to make Hong Kong such a vibrant, cosmopolitan and internationally oriented city. We mustn't let our standards slip. We don't want a situation to develop where companies might have to consider relocating to other countries because they can't function properly in Hong Kong.
These are just some of the issues we face. And we need to have the support of the people if we are to succeed and overcome the temporary shortfall in talented professionals. But tonight, I know there's no shortage of talent in the Leader of the Year 2000 winners. So let me once again pay tribute to all those involved, particularly the five winners. Congratulations.
End/Tuesday, March 27, 2001