The following is the transcript of the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, attending a programme of RTHK Radio 3 on the Policy Address this morning (October 11):
Host: Good morning. Thank you for joining us this morning.
Mr Tung: Delighted to be here.
Host: Can I first of all ask you, we had the three political leaders on 'Hong Kong Today' this morning just after 7 o'clock, and one of the messages coming through from them was this consensus among the politicians and they are going to see the Financial Secretary later this morning, and they want some more. What you gave them yesterday, was that your final word?
Mr Tung: Well, they made seven suggestions and out of the seven we have gone about - and actually, we did already six of them. In some areas we did more than what they asked. In other areas we did not do all they asked for. All I can say is that the decision was made based on a very realistic evaluation of the Hong Kong situation, on our budget, the likely deficit that we might have, as well as the needs of the community as a whole.
We also put a great deal of emphasis on the need for long term investment in education, in infrastructure. And on top of that we also went ahead and looked at, in the medium term, how we can help improve the business climate. So it was a very comprehensive package of measures which we brought out.
Host: So it was your final word?
Mr Tung: As I said just now, that it is always easy to give out more, but we have to do it with responsibility. We also have to see what is going to happen over the next two or three months around the world; whatever might happen around the world, how would that affect Hong Kong. So it was not a very easy decision to make.
Host: So, then is there room for improvement if the international situation changes?
Mr Tung: We constantly have to watch out what is happening around us, and what is happening in Hong Kong, and do the right thing. We have to be very nimble on our feet.
Host: This is a phone-in, the number is 1-8-7-8-2-2-8. We have a caller on the line now. Good morning to you.
Caller: Good morning. Mr Tung.
Mr Tung: Good morning.
Caller: Good morning. You have announced measures to try to create new jobs but they seem to be mostly for the lower skilled workers such as construction. But what about professionals who have been hit by the economic downturn, in the media for instance, such as printers or journalists?
Mr Tung: Well, we look at the number of people that have been unemployed, about 170,000 at this moment, about close to 5%, and there is a need to try to see how we can create more jobs for the lower end of our population spectrum. But let me make this point to you. Where we are now creating jobs, whether they be in the more greening of Hong Kong, cleaning of Hong Kong, whether they be in accelerating work for infrastructure, they are all done with a very specific objective because it is an objective good for Hong Kong - cleaning up Hong Kong, greening Hong Kong, providing more services for the elderly and so on and so forth. So we are not creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs, we create jobs because they are needed and we try to do them as quickly as we can.
Now, insofar as the professionals are concerned, yesterday I also announced a series of measures specifically (aimed) at the professionals in Hong Kong, to see how we can best, as a government, work more closely with the various professions in Hong Kong to increase job opportunities for everybody. Of course, all this will take time for it to come through.
Caller: But what sort of specific measures are you looking at?
Mr Tung: Well, for instance in the area of architecture, instead of the Housing Authority having a standard design for the public housing, or in the area of schools, instead of having specific and standard school design, we are now coming out and saying that: Well, we should let the whole community participate in the design of our public housing, as well as our schools, so that we can be more lively, more attractive as a community, and creating jobs for architects who are outside of the government structure.
Caller: Good morning. Yes, this is a question for Mr Tung, regarding rates rebates. The rates rebate as outlined in his Policy Speech is given to landlords but I am concerned about what will happen to the tenants. And briefly, as the tenants are paying a lump sum to the landlords, will the tenants benefit at all from the rebates?
Mr Tung: I think it depends on how the contract is worded between the tenant and the landlord. And our objective is really to benefit as many people as possible and about 840,000 people will benefit (from) the rebate reduction for a year, actually. So it depends on how your contract is written.
Host: But some of the political party leaders have mentioned that they feel that this amount is really not enough for the middle class and for people in small and medium size enterprises.
Mr Tung: I understand that and I appreciate that criticism, but as I said earlier on, that we have to make very difficult choices very often, and all I can say is that the environment out there is very, very uncertain and we need to watch out what would happen around us two, three, four months from now. At the time of the Budget, for instance, what the Financial Secretary would be looking at then doing.
Host: We have another caller on the line. So, you talked about safeguarding the rights of women, yesterday, in your speech; just one paragraph. We have a caller on the line now, I think about that issue. Good morning to you.
Caller: Good morning, I am actually very distressed to find that, again, we only have one paragraph on women in the Policy Address. In fact, the whole document - I found the whole document to be very gender insensitive. This is extremely disappointing, given that the government has established the Women's Commission and that one of the government's policy objectives for women this year is to incorporate gender consideration in the process of formulation and implementation of government policies, and to enhance gender sensitivity of the administration. In other areas, such as the youth and the elderly, the government has actually committed concrete financial resources. I was wondering where is the government's commitment on women's issues? And how will Mr Tung ensure, personally, that gender sensitivity across the administration? This is particularly important because the new accountability system that has been proposed this year makes the principal officials and the secretaries only accountable to the policy areas designated by the Chief Executive, and I don't believe that any one of them will do anything to jeopardise the renewal of their contracts. So, I would like to hear Mr Tung's opinion on this.
Mr Tung: Well, I think the importance I place, or the administration place, on any particular activity or any group of persons should not be related to the length of mentioning in the Policy Address. I think, in Hong Kong the women's status has risen very rapidly in the recent years. But on the other hand, as I said in my Policy Address, that Hong Kong women still face many obstacles in their development. We recognise this, we are concerned about it, and the role of the Women's Commission which has been established is to safeguard the rights and interests of women and provide support to help women to realise their full potential. And I look forward to hearing from the Women's Commission in specific areas where we can do more, and I promise you, we will do it.
Caller: Good morning.
Host: You are through to Mr Tung.
Caller: Good morning. A very short and straightforward question here. I was just wondering why more has not been done to boost consumption in Hong Kong? Basically, I mean, the retail sector is being hit at the moment. So pretty simple.
Mr Tung: We would like to do more to boost retail sales and what we are trying to do, attracting more tourists, certainly is in that direction. And as I mentioned in the Policy Speech yesterday, we have support and agreement with the Central Government to really, dramatically rearrange the systems and so on and so forth, so that more Mainland tourists can come through to Hong Kong. And one of the reasons is that it does help our economy and help our retail business activities.
We are a very mobile community and people do spend weekends across the border, people do fly off to Thailand and to other places to spend their holidays, and that is what Hong Kong is all about. So people go out of Hong Kong and we are trying to attract more people to come to Hong Kong.
Host: But also, I think the political parties were saying that one of the options open to you, perhaps, was the suspension of paying provisional tax for this year. Did you not take that seriously?
Mr Tung: We took that very, very seriously, but felt that given today's situation, financial situation, overall financial situation of the government, it was not a prudent thing to do.
Host: In what way?
Mr Tung: Well, because, you know, we are facing with a deficit of our Budget, of this year's Budget, and there are a whole series of other things we are doing. Yesterday's Policy Speech, for instance, you know we are spending a lot of money on infrastructure, we are committing a great deal of spending on education, both short term and long term. Actually, if you add up the numbers of yesterday's Policy Speech it is about HK$15 billion.
Host: But people are not going to rush out and spend, are they? They are not going to rush out and spend money in the shops, are they?
Mr Tung: Well, I'm afraid that is the case and it is likely that even if more tax relief is given, I'm not sure how much of that money will be rushed out into the shops.
Host: You think people would save?
Mr Tung: Yes.
Caller: Good morning. Good morning, Mr Tung.
Mr Tung: Good morning.
Caller: Mr Tung, I think it is admirable that you are considering trying to improve the image of Hong Kong in calling it 'Asia's Finest City', but you may be disturbed to find out that the logo has been changed, it has been considered 'Asia's Finest City For Some'. The reason for this is because of the perception that members of the community in Hong Kong, and visitors, are not treated equally. Racial discrimination is the issue. Now, the government, in your Policy Address yesterday, indicated that you were looking at ways to improve education. Education alone, is not sufficient. You must appreciate and be aware that legislation is vital. The fact that the government does not legislate the private sector is sending a message that it is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race.
You may also be aware that the members of the community in Hong Kong who have been here many generations, and there are new visitors who are here as well, who have decided to make Hong Kong their home, they treat it as their own, but they are being denied employment because of their race; they can't get accommodation - no place to live - because, for example, they are Indian or a different minority. Education, you may have had an opportunity to read yesterday's newspaper where Nepalese children are being denied vacancies in schools because they are Nepalese. This is very disturbing. And essentially, the UN, at the last meeting against racial discrimination, said that by not legislating, the government is sending a message that there is a licence to discriminate.
You have legislated against sex discrimination and indeed against disability, and earlier on you mentioned that the status of women in Hong Kong has improved. But there is a lot more to go. So education and legislation, for many people, and indeed the rest of the world believes that that is an effective tool to dealing with it, but you did not mention legislation in your Policy Address yesterday.
Mr Tung: No, I did not mention legislation in the Policy Speech yesterday. You know, I lived a long time in the United States and in the UK. I didn't see that legislation really helped the racial discrimination situation. I believe that education is a better way forward. I want to emphasise that there is no room for discrimination against race in Hong Kong. There is absolutely no room and we need to make sure there is no room whatsoever. How to best do it, is really the question: through education or through legislation? I can promise you, we will vigorously pursue the avenue of education. We will vigorously pursue that.
I know, as a government, we are looking at legislation. No decision has been made but in the meantime we are going to pursue vigorously in the area of education. There is no room for racial discrimination here in Hong Kong.
Host: So you are looking at legislation. How committed are you to pursuing, perhaps, that path to bring in some laws to help people here in Hong Kong?
Mr Tung: Let the government complete its study and we will see how we move forward.
Host: Are you, personally, in favour of legislation?
Mr Tung: I think you know my views on this. I mentioned earlier on my own experience. But no, we will certainly be guided by the public opinion and by what the government study may bring up.
Host: Do we have a time frame for that at all?
Mr Tung: I would think it would not be too long, the study.
Host: Continuing with the phone-in with the Chief Executive and we have another caller on the line who would like to talk to Mr Tung about business visas to Mainland China. Good morning.
Caller: Good morning. Good morning, Mr Tung.
Mr Tung: Good morning.
Caller: You have mentioned about a 3-year business visa to China, which of course is admirable, but unless we are issued with something like a return home permit, which is going to allow us to go through the local channels on the Chinese side, the 3-year permit is a waste of time. You have just said you want to attract more Mainland visitors to Hong Kong, more Mainland tourists. Great! No problem with that. The only problem is, those of us with foreign passports and permanent residents cards still have to go through the passport channel on the Chinese side. In recent years, with more and more people travelling to Hong Kong, a lot more are travelling in tour groups, they fly out of Chek Lap Kok to Asian destinations and the queues are ridiculous. There we are on business, we want to get through fast, we want to do our business, and last week I spent one hour in the queue coming back through Lo Wu through the passport queue. You know my friends come through in the local channel in five minutes. Now, unless we have that facility, your 3-year visa is a waste of time.
Mr Tung: I take your point totally. I will look into this. I think we really have a problem across the Lo Wu border. Not just for you but for a whole lot of people and we are trying very hard to improve the situation by committing quite a lot of investment into improving the facilities and I hope you will find some improvement in the not too distant future on this. It is a big problem.
Caller: It works well, Mr Tung. It actually works well, until you get to the Chinese side.
Mr Tung: I know, it is how you line up, I understand that. But I do want to mention to you the other point in case you misunderstood. Actually, the 3-year visa actually applies to Mainland Chinese business people coming to Hong Kong. It also applies to Hong Kong people, permanent residents, going up to the Mainland. That is right. You are right.
Caller: Yes. I am a permanent resident and I go into China, on average, at least once every two weeks.
Mr Tung: I see.
Caller: Colleagues of mine go in every week, maybe two or three times.
Mr Tung: I see. So the question to you is just a question of the queue.
Caller: Exactly. I have got a 10-year passport which I will use in one year because it is full of Chinese stamps. That is ridiculous. If I am a tourist and I am going to go in once a year, then I don't mind standing in a queue. When I go in on a weekly or fortnightly basis, I don't expect to have to stand in a queue for an hour with huge tour groups who are flying out. It doesn't make any sense. It is not productive to me, it is not productive to Hong Kong, it is certainly not productive to China.
Host: I think the point that you are trying to make is, you are not a tourist, you are a business person and you are a permanent resident of Hong Kong.
Caller: Absolutely! Now, they are not going to give us our own channel to get through on the Chinese side but it would be simplified if we had a card similar to the return home card that the local Chinese use and we can go through their bit at the border. It would be dead simple.
Host: Can that be arranged?
Mr Tung: Let's see what we can do.
Caller: Please do it. We need it badly, there are a lot of us.
Mr Tung: All right. We will try.
Caller: Thank you.
Host: Food for thought there, Mr Tung. And we have another caller who wants to talk about the elderly, an area that you are very interested in, Mr Tung.
Caller: Good morning, Mr Tung.
Mr Tung: Good morning.
Caller: You say, in your Address yesterday, that you are doing everything to help the elderly and provide a home for them with subsidised charges. But this is totally the opposite to what the Government Property Agency are doing to old people's homes in the New Territories where they are actually charging inflated rents, where the old people are actually paying higher fees than they should be paying. So the suicide rates in the New Territories are very high. Can you explain why we seem to have a double standard where one government department does not appear to be following the government policy?
Host: Mr Tung, a very specific question. I don't know if you can answer that.
Mr Tung: It is a specific question and I think it would be very difficult for me to answer. But what I would like to ask you to do, if you can help me, is to write in on this and I will specifically look into this.
Caller: Okay. Yes, I will do. Thank you.
Mr Tung: Thank you very much.
Host: Thank you for raising that particular point. I think another area we have not talked about yet and that is - I was going to say the old chestnut but I shouldn't say that - that is the ministerial system. You have made some progress talking about that yesterday, how do you see the issue now?
Mr Tung: Well, as I said yesterday, it is the accountability system which will, in today's changing world, make the whole government more accountable. This is the purpose. And in order to do this we have to do it at different areas within the government. It is not just making a few senior government officials more accountable, it is making the whole government more accountable.
Host: So would you like to put people - get them off permanent and pensionable terms and get them on to contract terms?
Mr Tung: The idea would be to appoint a group of principal officials in the accountability system who would be on contract terms, whose terms of length of service would be the same as the Chief Executive, and become totally accountable for the government as a whole.
Host: Do you have the support of the civil service for that?
Mr Tung: The idea now is being developed. It is being developed through a committee structure and senior civil servants are involved in the design of the structure, and I personally have had discussions with the many senior government officials. They are basically in support of the arrangement because everybody sees this is the way forward for the future of Hong Kong.
Host: And moving on to Hong Kong's infrastructure, something you talked about at length yesterday, I think we have a caller on now who wants to talk about the building of the new Exhibition Centre at Chek Lap Kok. Good morning to you.
Caller: Good morning. Yes, this is a question for Mr Tung. I mean one of the elements of your Policy Address, I was dismayed to see, was the two billion that you are going to be spending, from your fifteen billion recovery packet, and it is going towards building an exhibition centre at Chek Lap Kok. Now, I seem to have noticed that we already have a large exhibition centre in Wanchai that looks wonderful but sits empty for most of the year. I don't believe that this is more beneficial for Hong Kong. I don't see why you haven't redirected those funds to putting the money towards something that would benefit the ordinary people in Hong Kong who are struggling with rising prices for food, transport and housing.
Mr Tung: Well, let me tell you this, the facilities we have in Wan Chai are doing very, very well, they are being fully booked, they are being stretched, firstly. And secondly, the exhibition business is a huge business for Hong Kong, it does bring about a whole lot of economic activities. It brings in a lot of tourists, a lot of visitors, and it is vital as part of Hong Kong's economy. And we are anticipating an increase in demand and this is why we have decided to build a new exhibition centre at the airport. Now, if we don't do any of these things, if we don't do new investment, what will happen is other cities will likely take over our very pre-eminent role in Asia as the leading exhibition centre. So this is what we are trying to do, in fact, to create more jobs for everybody here in Hong Kong.
Host: Okay. Thank you very much indeed for your call - your answer. We have the chat room open, which is www.rthk.org.hk. Before we go to that, let's have a caller on the line now. Good morning to you. You are through to the Chief Executive.
Caller: Good morning, Mr Tung. I think you must share my enjoyment watching the China National Team going to the final of the World Cup Tournament, and I know that you like watching soccer a lot.
Mr Tung: Yes.
Caller: It's a question of, now consider Hong Kong as a football team. Now we are in a very bad situation, our attacking front are not playing the job well because they have to change to a new role. You mentioned a lot of times that we have to learn, ourselves, to play new skills on the soccer field, and we have to learn new skills. But it seems that we have to replace the attacking front by some new members but I don't see anybody is warming-up in the field, or whether they exist at all. Whereas in the midfield, like the middle class in our society, they are crippled. They are either playing with one foot or they are playing with the wrong foot. Whereas the defence system of our soccer team in Hong Kong, the general public, they don't even have a soccer boot to wear. So as the team manager of this soccer team, do you consider to follow the good example of Kevin Keagan, of the last England National Team Manager, to step down and try to bring in some new good managers, so maybe we can play better in the future?
Host: Okay. Thank you very much indeed. So, a question of who's Sven Goran Eriksson.
Mr Tung: Let me tell you this. Hong Kong, since July 1, 1997, has faced many challenges. We have overcome the Asian financial turmoil successfully, we have implemented 'one country, two systems' when at that time just before July 1997, everybody was very worried. So these are no mean small achievements. That is the first point.
The second point is that when the economy is down, everybody is unhappy, and I understand that. But Hong Kong is a very externally oriented economy and when our major markets' economies began a long decline, we are affected.
And thirdly is that with the attack of terrorists in New York and Washington, the external environment is becoming even more serious and we are going to face even a longer period of decline in our economy. So these are the facts of life. I understand that, I understand the unhappiness, I understand the anxiety.
And on top of that, we are facing a major economic restructuring. We are faced with a rapidly changing economy because of globalisation and because of what IT is doing to us. Now, in the face of all this, I think the most important thing is let's not lose confidence, let's look at our strengths. And we have a lot of strengths out there.
Firstly, geographically we are in such a position we enjoy the support of our own country, enjoy the support of China, and we are so strategically located, we are the envy of all the other countries and communities in Asia. And secondly, we do have a cluster of very, very good people in the financial services, in accounting, in insurance, in legal work, and they are all there, and these areas, other cities cannot reproduce very, very quickly. And thirdly, I want to tell you this: we have the rule of law, we have a whole lot of strengths there. So let's not lose sight, let's not lose confidence. Let's work together for a better Hong Kong.
Host: Mr Tung, thank you very much indeed.
End/Thursday, October 11, 2001