Sunday, April 19, 2009

[CWHK] The cashed-up Hong Kong govt must fund smarter IT initiatives

John Tsang, our Financial Secretary, unrevealed his second budget in February and said that “preserving jobs” was his objective. The theme surely resonates with the public, but the content of this budget does not justify its stated goal. 

Those who criticize the Hong Kong government for neglecting its citizens’ hardship during the current downturn have a point. Governments around the world are enacting aggressive economic stimulus measures. But our government seems to be sitting idle in spite of record fiscal reserves. 

Hong Kong: cash-rich, initiative poor 

At the end of January 2009, our fiscal reserves reached a record-breaking HK$543 billion, while accumulated surplus of the Exchange Fund was around HK$500 billion. According to a government press release, as at 31 January 2009, the financial position of the government stands at the enviable level of HK$49.8 billion surplus. Instead of the fiscal deficit of HK$4.9 billion that the government estimated in the budget, we may end up with a huge surplus at the end of this financial year. 

Taking into account this possibility of a huge surplus, the meager initiatives proposed in the budget are even worse than when they first meet the eyes. On the ICT front, although the government has increased its ICT spending, the effect on alleviating the industry’s hardships is inadequate. 

Perhaps more so than in other industries, our ICT sector faces dwindling demand, an professionals are under threat of layoff day and night. Yet prices—for products, services and manpower—are falling. This is the perfect opportunity for the government to improve our information infrastructure, in order to provide better public services, help sustain demand, and preserve jobs. 

The government must recognize the irreparable damage that will be caused to the ICT industry in financial downturns, as ICT skills are harder to maintain than most other professional skills if a professional is out of action for a year or several months. Our industry and indeed the entire Hong Kong professional workforce will face a shortage of ICT talent when the economy recovers—similar to the post-SARS situation. 

E-health scheme not enough  

The only bright spot is the appropriation for the territory-wide e-health records (EHR), which will go a long way to establish Hong Kong as a center of health information system development. But the ICT industry must be further and better engaged in the setting up of the strategy and direction of EHR, so that the ICT industry will be able to participate, contribute and benefit from this sizable investment. 

The “MyGovHK” project, which allows users to customize the government portal, is another idea I previously proposed in my “Ten Information Infrastructure Projects.” The government finally accepted the need for Hong Kong to have a clearer policy to support the development of data centers—also welcome news, after years of lobbying from the industry and myself along with former LegCo member Sin Chung-Kai urging the government to remove restrictive barriers in their land and innovation support policies. 

Hiring for specific needs 

But the government’s responses to our other recommendations in other policy areas, such as education, transport, food labeling and so on, have fallen short of the industry’s expectations. For instance, the budget earmarked HK$63 million for a one-year education program on online safety, which will create 500 jobs. 

But the fund could be much better utilized if each school hires a single IT assistant: a trained tech to alleviate the heavy workload of teachers who must handle IT support chores in addition to teaching. Instead of the unclear motives and clearly one-off nature of the proposed program, what teachers and students really need is the government’s commitment to support them in a sustainable way. 

The Financial Secretary has indicated that he may announce further mid-year initiatives, opening a door for further supportive measures. It’s high time for our sector to unite behind a common cause: urging government to recognize the ICT sector’s importance to our economy and financing more concrete measures to re-ignite our momentum, so that Hong Kong can realize our potential when we emerge from this crisis. This “worst of times” is indeed the best of times to make this investment on ourselves, and we must realize that this is a once-in-a-century opportunity we are facing, not a crisis. 

Published on Computerworld Hong Kong, April 2009 issue


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Henry Chan said...

Hi, all,

One important priority of the USA first Chief Technology Officer is to boost the innovative technology for broadband access. In Australia, the Federal Government will build the 100 Megabits per second National Broadband Network within years. Broadband services are important for knowledge share and knowledge transfer. Hope that HKSARG will try to invest money to build the new broadband services in HK including the China's Pearl River Delta development region. Henry Kar Ming Chan

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Henry Chan said...

Hi, all,

Here is my further message about the building of broadband services in HK including the China's Pearl River Delta development region. The Wikipedia wanted to have US$ 6 million funding last year for operational costs. 125,000 individuals had donated since July 2008, totalling US$4 million in personal donations. That is, around US$30 per person. The US president Obama received US$28 million in online contributions coming from more than 250,000 contributors. 90% were under US$100. 40% were US$25 or less, and 10,000 people gave US$5 or US$10 to the campaign. PCCW and China Telecom are important tentative players for this great Cyber Infrastructure for the HK and China people. It is the reason why the investors are still holding the PCCW shares. Some of them are investing ten thousands but some are more than million HK dollars. They may not have enough good food to eat but they are all waiting for a miracle of a knowledge-based economy by using very fast speed broadband services in South East China. Hoping that we are not the “'Sick Man of East Asia东亚病夫” forever. Henry Kar Ming Chan

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Henry Chan said...

Hi, all,

I noted the result of Appeal court for the privatisation of PCCW. It is the time to step forward altogether. We look forward to seeing a very fast broadband access to an open Internet with Freedom and the increased creative capitalism activities that comes from it in HK including the China's Pearl River Delta development region. God bless China.
Henry Kar Ming Chan

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Henry Chan said...

Hi, all,

If the dream will not die, then work continues.
If the rain will not blow, then freedom glows.

Forgive me to look beyond HK other than 2012 elections. I really hope to see that the freedom and democracy will be glowing if a very fast speed broadband services in Pearl River Delta will be built. Therefore I love PCCW (Promote Chinese Creative Web).

God bless HK.

Henry Kar Ming Chan


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