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Speech by the SETW

Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Dr Sarah Liao, made at the Civil Service Management Forum today (August 28):

Good afternoon. It is not usual for me to speak to such a large gathering of audience. I was telling Mr Sankey that I feel dwarfed in any case and in this huge podium I can hardly see you. But it is my great pleasure to be here this afternoon. I realize this is an afternoon and after lunch. So I hope most of you will try to keep awake while we give a ten-minute presentation.

I am sure you will enjoy this session which aims to carry out some management forum for discussion. I am a greenhorn in the Government. A greenhorn is almost always synonymous with ragging. I am very fortunate that I can tell you I did not experience ragging in my bureau or my departments. In the one month or so that I have been here, I have actually experienced very good co-operation with my staff. I am impressed by their hard work, commitment to serve the community and competence.

We are talking about change. And I am very conscious all the time that we must not forget history. Only when we understand history that we can see what our future is for us. Let me just go back to history a little bit with Hong Kong's success history in the past decades. I am sure the civil service feels proud of what it has done.

The civil service has built Hong Kong and I like to lead the discussion by saying what have we done as one of our top ten achievements for Hong Kong. Our transport staff here may start thinking. We have one of the best public transportation systems. We are still number one in terms of container traffic and in our port facilities. We are number one or two in our airfrieght. We have maintained our tenth position among the world's external banking system, foreign exchange and stock equity.

All these would have not been here without your hard work. We need to give recognition for that. So, with all the background that we have had, why change ? You know this seems to be a paradox. What is the need for change ? We must recognize the paradise shift that we are facing with now before we can come up with good solution.

The change is right in front of our eyes. If those of you who have seen in the newspapers in these few days, the number of crossings at Lo Wu today is 300,000 times per day. If we look at that figure, it is equivalent, one month today is equivalent to a year's volume not too long ago in the 1980's. So, we have an almost twelvefold increase just in the very short period of time.

This signifies a complete re-think of how we carry out business in Hong Kong. It is part of the change that we need to recognise. We are now part of China as you know, we are like in the hand and glove situation with the "One Country, Two Systems". We want to be part of China's ascendance to the world stage, its accession to the WTO. We want to have a collaboration with people across the border, our Mainland Chinese colleagues. And we also want to do a lot of infrastructural works with them. That is all changing to what we are used to.

At the same time, we have to address the public expectation of us. We see a lot, we hear a lot of noises whether they are right or wrong, we have to face increasing political pressure and demands whether they are right or wrong, we have to face with the community structural changes. All these would make us a work force, that has to be dynamic and has to master change without hesitance because standing still is not an option.

Among all the changes, why are we putting up what we call the "Asia's City" ? Because with all these changes, we must not lose focus on the objective of what we want to be as HKSAR. It is not just about physical infrastructure. It is about the software and the values that has always come with the name Hong Kong.

So what is the world city ? It must have the following features: the respect for human rights and international culture, the provision of a good system for business to strive, attractive to our investors, a very high-value work force, a clean and quality environment and a clean and efficient government. We must not lose sight of these values.

In fact, some of the aspiration are already here. We are not saying that we have not even started but we must focus on these values as well as the willingness and the prepardness for change. I have read in the newspapers in these few days how our staff have reacted to this management forum. It is warming up I would say. But many of you probably find it difficult to discuss on a rather abstract idea of world city. What do you mean by change ? How do we come to terms with practical issues.

I have so many issues in my mind that talking about something floating in the air just doesn't seem to be the right approach. Let me try to bounce a few ideas with you so that it could stimulate some discussions with case studies in mind. And also, I want you to look at the Rootmap as a chance to do some mental gymnastics. You don't have much chance of doing that in your everyday work but I can assure you this is a good exercise and you will be surprised with the new idea that come in. Let me concentrate on my three portfolios that I am faced with.

Transport. I am sure you read in the newspapers everyday about transport fares, whether it is high or low, is right or wrong. Let's look at history. We have the best transport system and we have an intermodal transport system that is rationalized. It provides mobility for people and goods. It is efficient as well as it has always been very affordable to our public.

What is the future ? We are seeing changes right now. What is going to happen to our railway system when our property subsidies would not work probably for the future or associated with our property changes. What is going to happen if we need direct subsidy for something that may not be totally affordable ? Do you want to have such subsidy? How can we do it in order to maintain a level playing field ? How can we do it also without rocking the boat ? My staff have kept reminding me of that and I am very aware of that. So, this is one aspect and the second aspect with transport is in the future. Are we prepared to embrace technology? Let me tell you in the not very near future, we can turn water into energy. This is not distance future. A fleet of buses using fuel-cell technology which is electrolysis of water into hydrogen and then the combustion of hydrogen. You will have no pollution. Some people thought it wouldn't come in this decade but it is already tested in the streets of Vancouver. Are we prepared to look for it ? Are we always aware of the technology development so we can honour modern technology to the best of our use ?

And lastly, cross border issue. It is again a hot issue in our press everyday. How do we work with China ? Of course, we need the linkage. We have a hinterland which would be complementary to the skill and the software that we have in Hong Kong. But where do we begin ? Do we understand the rule of their games ? It is a game of two different systems and it will take us a long time if we are not prepared to go over to Mainland and work with them. We want to be sure that the system that we have will maintain, the two systems and yet we need the partnership. It is not an easy task but this calls for a change in our mindset in order to allow that to happen.

My second topics is environment. I can go on and on as you all know on environment. What has happened in the past ? Our Government has created a suite of regulations that help us to control pollution probably mostly end-of-pipe but we also have regulations that would participate actively at the planning stage to prevent environmental impacts on our projects and on our people. And we have also invested tremendous amount of money in controlling at sources. We see the LPG taxi and the LPG mini-buses that are coming along and we have other installation with our heavy lorries and truck vehicles.

But what is the future ? In all the developed countries, polluter-pays principle is the number one principle and the second one actually extends from this concept is the internalization of an externality. That means we want to change environmental cost from a cost center to a production center. But in Hong Kong, in our first test of water, that means the using of the Trade Effluent Surcharge, it has caused so much heated argument and there is an outcry from certain sector to do away the system simply because they thought that it is not equitable.

To pay for pollution is everybody's responsibility. If you throw away a piece of garbage, right now charge for disposing your garbage at home is immaterial. But I just get a notice from my GIS information officers that China has issued a state-wide notice that they will start charging for municipal garbage. So where are we ? If we will not recognize such an important principle that is fundamental to all developing countries as a major force, that makes environment a market force and push forward all the reforms and make sure the business and the general public consider environmental impacts as their bottom-line, we will never have a sustainability system.

We will be coming up with the landfill charges. I am sure I will be stoned but we must have the political courage to go forward with what we believe in. The next stage for environmental is it becomes a way of life. In many of the European countries, in Germany, for example, the clothing that they produce must contain 10 per cent re-cycled materials. That makes the recycled material product a real market and it is the move that have turned around the whole industry and of course in addition to that, Germany is one of the largest exporters in environmental technology.

Technology will help us to reduce environmental impacts on our life but it will not be developed unless people see it as part of their costs of conducting business. So are we prepared for it ? Do we have the courage to do this, especially in the climate where everybody feels that the Government should pay for everything but it is a matter of principle and not a matter of cost and we have to push forward.

And last but not least, it's the Works Bureau and the Works Departments, friends that we are working with. As you know they are behind all the infrastructure public works that we had enjoyed in Hong Kong and it had helped Hong Kong to flourish. And even as we are speaking now our staff is toiling away, working on $30 billion worth of public works projects and hiring 20,000 to 30,000 people. We don't get much recognition for all the work we do. Our public probably sees roads being dug up, inconvenience being caused and it is not fair. But we have to put up with these and do the best with our public relations.

But looking forward, we have a mammoth task in front of us. At a time of deflation, it is the best time to build and be prepared for the boom that will come around the corner, I hope, very soon. At the same time our Works Bureau had maintained the highest safety record in Hong Kong, it is in terms of multiples compared to other sites. It is a great honour for our trade to have such a record. However, it also means costs.

We are also under great pressure to cut costs. How do we do it? Do we have the facilities to do it? Can we lead industry by putting up a good example and then having to scrap it? Can we improve efficiency? The construction industry is also undergoing major changes, for example, you must have read about the sub-contracting issues that related to workers not being paid, the shredding of responsibility from one level to another and not to mention the possibility of corruption.

We have to take the lead, as the Works Bureau, to combat all these factors and of course, we also have to face the issue of illegal workers.

Under the same Bureau, we are looking at the water we drink. I just drank a glass of water and I said I hope it is from our own system. What do we do with our water? We are now relying on Dongjiang to give us water; it is a very difficult contract that we have to face with. We all know as Guangdong develops, the up stream of Dongjiang is getting more and more polluted. And cleaning up polluted water is just not a sustainable solution. We had asked for total water resource management that means catchment areas had to be managed. However this is very much another negotiation scheme that we had to work through. Do we look at these as a management issue or are we ready to look for other technological solutions. It's not just cleaning up the water. We may even look at the vast amount of seawater that could be dis-salinized. And we should be also looking at water recycling. This is being practiced in almost cities all over the world and why is Hong Kong not doing it?

These are the issues that I'm posing to you, not that I have the solutions but it's good to think about these things. And we can work together as a team. I hope through the session here you get to know your fellow colleagues who you don't usually come across with each other. And together you build up a strong team that'll be able to break all barriers. The necessity to work across Bureaux is so clear that we have to work in a most efficient and friendly manner. And with the outside community, we have to partnership with them. The community is part of us; there is no us or them. I strongly believe that with our colleagues in the civil service, we'll make Hong Kong, our home, Asia's World City. And you will be part of it to make it happen. And we'll all be proud. Thank you.

End/Wednesday, August 28, 2002

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