Following is the speech by the Financial Secretary, Mr Henry Tang, at the "Review 200" Conference cum Award Presentation Ceremony organised by the Far Eastern Economic Review at the JW Marriott Hotel this (February 19) afternoon (English only):
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to join the Conference, and for this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you before the awards presentation this afternoon. With just three weeks to go before I deliver my first Budget, I guess you may be hoping for a few early indicators of what's in store. I am sorry, but I'll have to disappoint you on that front. You'll have to wait until March 10 to see how our Budget pans out. And while I can't let you in on the details of the Budget, I will a little later provide an insight into how we are trying to make the whole Budget process more open, transparent and inclusive.
'Leadership' is a fascinating subject but 'Leadership Under Fire' is perhaps more to the point in today's world, where change is happening faster than ever. Governments and corporations all over the world walk a knife-edge of public and international expectations and scrutiny. One slip can have devastating consequences. In addition, we must learn to expect the unexpected.
The events of the past year in Hong Kong provide a prime case of how, out of the blue, calm seas can belie stormy weather ahead. At the beginning of last year, our economy posted a healthy growth and showed all signs of a good year ahead.
But then SARS struck, and our world was turned on its head. There was genuine fear among our community - indeed throughout the world - that this strange new disease could be the next pandemic. International travel became a scary thought. The airline, tourism, catering and retails sectors were dealt a heavy blow - each dependent on the other, each in turn affecting other sectors and industries. A consumer confidence survey put Hong Kong people amongst the most pessimistic economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Things were looking pretty gloomy back in May and June last year.
Yet, six months later, the mood changed dramatically. The SARS crisis had abated, Hong Kong was long taken off the list of affected areas, and nearly all economic indicators had rebounded strongly. In another Consumer Confidence survey, carried out by the same company, Hong Kong scored a 'very optimistic' 81.1 - the second highest score on record.
The government and the private sector in Hong Kong all had to deal with the SARS fallout; and they did so in different ways. So even though we may face the same crisis there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
However, I do believe that some elements play a key role in succeeding in an uncertain, and sometimes volatile, world. Having a clear vision is certainly one of those elements.
When I was appointed as the Financial Secretary in August last year, I articulated my mission like this:
"My foremost priority is to improve Hong Kong's economy. Despite the current economic difficulties we are facing, we should not lose sight of our unique advantages and our good economic fundamentals. ... I am fully confident that Hong Kong will rise again stronger than before. ... I am determined ... to work closely with our community in overcoming our economic difficulties and develop a prosperous, harmonious and caring society."
My goal was to keep the statement clear and concise and, given the traumas we had faced as a community, it also needed to be reassuring. I wanted to communicate to our people where, as I saw it, Hong Kong's economy was heading, and set out the path that I would follow as Financial Secretary.
Some of you may have read Rudolph Giuliani's book, simply entitled Leadership. In it, he says that, quote: 'ideology is enormously important when running a large organisation. The people who work for you, those who look to you for answers, the media, even your rivals have a right to know how you see the world'. End quote.
I largely agree with this view. Good communications are essential. And that is why shortly after taking up the position of Financial Secretary, I made a statement at the Legislative Council to lay out the principles that would guide my decision-making. I also took that opportunity to provide an overview of our recent economic performance and posed some questions about our fiscal situation and economic development to engage the community and stimulate debate.
But presenting and communicating a clear vision is only the start. Getting people on board, gaining trust and respect, are equally, if not more, important elements in making that vision become a reality.
I am a firm believer in openness and transparency in government. It is also important that members of the community are involved in the decision-making process. In so doing, they become aware of how and why certain decisions are made. It is only through a process of informed, rational and constructive debate that we can forge a consensus on the best way forward.
These tenets of transparency and involvement have guided my consultations on the 2004/05 Budget. Since November last year, I have met numerous groups, from union representatives to chambers of commerce, from professionals to the less privileged in society. These meetings have not only helped me gauge the aspirations and priorities of the community, they have also helped our citizens to understand that they have a stake in the process and the outcome. The Budget is not just an issue that can be addressed by the Government alone - it is an issue that concerns everyone in our society.
You may have perhaps seen my face on television, asking people to give us your ideas and suggestions for the Budget. We have set up a website to gather views. I am very pleased to see that we have so far received more than 600 submissions, and there have been some creative ideas that can be further explored.
In a wider context, we are taking steps to involve and engage the community with the establishment of the Economic and Employment Council. The Council will advise me on policies and initiatives to promote economic activities, encourage inward investment, facilitate business and create employment opportunities.
These four inter-related areas are central to our economic development and prosperity. There is scope to boost the synergies among them, and also room for compromise as well. That is why we have asked Council members from different backgrounds - political parties, business and labour representatives, and the academia - to participate actively and constructively in policy deliberations and thus help build a consensus across different policy areas.
Having a clear vision, communicating it to the people and enticing people to work together sound simple enough. But, as I am sure that many of you have found and experienced, bringing all of those threads together can test even the brightest and most able leaders. And that is why conferences such as this, which bring together leaders from a wide cross-section of industries and disciplines, can help us all to keep our eyes on the ball and, when the time comes we can lead effectively under fire without getting burnt. Thank you very much.
Ends/Thursday, February 19, 2004