Sunday, November 04, 2012

Letter to Hong Kong

If the first month of the new term of the Legislative Council has been any indication, the coming four years will not be like any other before. If the Chief Executive's administration is a hot kitchen, the temperature level at the Legco would not be lower either.

As a new member of the Legislative Council, I have a lot to learn, not only in the customs and rules under which the council is conducted, but also the political dynamics, and the tug of war that has already started, obliviating any proverbial honeymoon that might have previously existed.

As a member of the pan-democratic, camp elected through the Information Technology functional constituency, while I stand firm on the position for universal suffrage and the eventual but earliest removal of the unjust functional constituency system, I also believe that advocating for better policy support and community awareness for the development of IT in Hong Kong is equally a matter of public interest.  IT can be a real force in the revitalization of Hong Kong's economy and our society.

The conventional mindset of the people in Hong Kong is that we have no place in the technology industry.  Oh Hong Kong’s market is too small, and we don't have enough talents.  Yet, these are the excuses that Hong Kong has created for ourselves, to cover our own eyes from the truth that our business people have become too short-sighted in wanting to make the quick bucks, and our government has been relying too much on the financial sector and property market.  If all the other Asian dragons can – Taiwan, Korea, Singapore – why can't we?

It is true that people, or talents, are the most important factor in developing high technology.  We may not compare with China in numbers and quantity, but we have quality and the right innovative and free culture.  We have world-class research and teaching universities.  Top engineering and computer science students trained by our institutions have consistently been recruited straight out of the classrooms to Silicon Valley, Beijing, or Singapore.  As the Chinese saying goes, we are making the wedding dresses for others.

While our community has become one of the most IT-savvy as users, where our young and even not-so-young people keep buying the latest electronic gadgets, we have discounted our own capability to be the producers in this most lucrative sector of all in the world, technology.  But in fact, our rule of law, the free flow of information, advanced telecommunications infrastructure and open regulatory regime, and our intellectual property protection all make for a great environment for developing technology.  We are not behind but possibly ahead of our regional competitors in all these regards.  We only lack government support and community endorsement.

As Steve Jobs once said, “We don't know where it will lead. We just know there's something much bigger than any of us here.”  How true, especially after what we should have learned about where an over-reliance on property and financial services will lead us, from the bursting of one bubble to another, creating wealth for a select minority, rather than empowering everyone with knowledge, jobs and opportunities.

On October 17, Chief Executive CY Leung came to the Legislative Council to address us on his policy vision.  Ironically, we heard more about what he was not about to do, than what he said he would do.  While Mr Leung presented himself as a man of change and action just more than half a year ago as a candidate, now he turns out to be more conservative than anyone has expected.  He tells us that politics is the art of the possible, not the impossible.  I think he has purposely twisted it as an excuse for not tackling any problem with any political risk or any potential loss of face, coping out of any attempt to turn anything from the impossible to the possible.

One of those initiatives that Mr Leung has given up on is the restructuring of the government's administration, under which a bureau dedicated to the policy-making, execution and regulation of IT and broadcasting affairs will be re-established, has been shelved.  This is most disappointing as I can testify that during my election campaign, re-establishing the technology bureau was definitely among the top of the wish-list of the IT sector.

Why are we IT people so keen on having our own technology bureau?  For one, it is about respect and recognition.  The previous administration of Donald Tsang has stripped IT from its top level of policy bureaus, merged us with the commerce and industry policy bureau and even removing the word "technology" from the name of the bureau, leaving us with much more than a snap on the face but realistically, a combined bureau with too much work to handle.  The result is a virtual standstill in terms of new or effective policy support for the developing of IT, communications and broadcasting in Hong Kong, while the rest of the world breezes past us.

Re-establishing the technology bureau is not a proposal designed just to help our own sector, but one that will create more opportunities for Hong Kong’s economy to advance.  We have been talking about diversifying our economy ever since the financial tsunami, but what have we done?  Even Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has told our last Chief Executive Mr Tsang in his face that Hong Kong should develop a viable high technology industry, but, still to no avail.

Now that Mr Leung has shelved the technology bureau, what can we expect, no, what should we demand our government to do?  First, I have started to work with other leaders in the IT industry to form an action committee to start to formulate industry policy and concrete action proposals for the government, to demand that Mr Leung will put more focus and actual support measures for IT in his upcoming policy address in January.

But, having an internal leader for IT in the government is still important.  Falling short of having a separate bureau for technology and its own Secretary, will Mr Leung appoint an undersecretary for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau from the IT sector, and find someone with the knowledge, vision and drive to help make these changes now?  This is what I am going to demand Mr Leung to act for us now, and for Hong Kong.

I believe if we are going to create an atmosphere favorable for developing innovative and creative ideas in technology and communications, we must put our focused efforts on four key pillars: image, talent, market and investment.  Our young people or even their parents are not aware of the potentials that a technology career can bring.

So, we must work on professional recognition for IT people with urgency, and I am glad that the Office of Government Chief Information Officer has already initiated a task force on professional development to push in that direction.  We must also work with the academia to urgently improve both the quality and the quantity of the intake of students to IT and engineering disciplines.  Everyone in the industry knows how difficult it is to hire IT people these days, and that is what students and parents should also know, how in demand IT graduates are, and the potentials for a challenging and rewarding career.

But at the same time we must find measures to strengthen the local market, so that companies can make better margins of profits, and reward their employees more competitively.  Then, investors will come back.  So, these four pillars – image, talents, market and investment – will go hand in hand to support the creation of more quality jobs for young people in Hong Kong, not as property or financial salespersons, but as someone who can be proud of the technology applications or services that they create with their innovation and creativity.

Former US President Bill Clinton once said, "The future is not an inheritance, it is an opportunity and an obligation." And he also said, "The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change."  Hong Kong must change.  And we can do it.

Letter to Hong Kong, on RTHK Radio 3, November 4 2012


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