Sunday, July 19, 2015

[RTHK LTHK] ITB, to be or yet to be?

The scandal now called the “lead water gate” has made the people of Hong Kong worried about the health and safety of our fellow citizens in many housing estates with the water we drink. Yet our Chief Executive first came out to warn us against blaming it on the pre-fabricated parts from China. A question that begs to be answered is: can we still trust our government and our Chief Executive to act in the best interest of our people, rather than serving vested sectoral interests or forcing a hidden political agenda?

This is exactly the question I have been pondering a lot lately, because the same conflict between the wider public good and the Administration’s private political agenda is also occurring over the debate about the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau.

I support better policy and resource coordination, and a balanced government structure, and supporting the establishment of a Technology Bureau has always been part of my political platform. My first task as a legislator representing information technology in September 2012 had been to tell the then also newly-elected Chief Executive that he should revive the effort to set up the technology bureau right away.

Working with professionals in the industry, I wrote numerous articles to advocate the new bureau to the public, and submitted policy recommendations to the government about what the new bureau should do. I organised online signature campaigns and press conferences with industry representatives to lobby the government to action. Finally, almost a year and a half later, in January 2014, the Chief Executive announced his proposed formation of the Innovation and Technology Bureau.

Unfortunately, in an increasingly polarised political scene in Hong Kong, and under growing distrust of the Chief Executive himself, the new bureau’s establishment has become the subject of a political struggle between the Administration and the radical pan-democrats.

Sadly, rather than coming together to find a compromise, each of the two sides is bent on overpowering the other into submission, with the Administration repeatedly shuffling the agenda of the Finance Committee, disregarding established norms in the proceedings of the council, and the radical pan-democrats escalating its filibusters.

Indeed, in recent months I thought I saw a glimmer of hope when government officials finally approached many pan-democrats to brief them about innovation and technology policies, and began to answer some of their questions. Even the more radical opponents to the bureau have indicated that, should the funding proposal for the new bureau be submitted to the Finance Committee in October when next year’s session reconvenes, with more substantial plans from the government, they would be prepared to see it passed.

But once again, the Chief Executive decided to force his way through instead, adding 28 hours of meeting time last week to the Finance Committee, thereby provoking an expectedly equally agitated response in yet another round of bruising filibusters, rendering from the start any effort to establish the new bureau right away as, again, impossible.

I have repeatedly persuaded my pan-democrat colleagues against filibustering, because regardless of any politically-minded provocation by the Administration, our priority should be to see that all livelihood matters be passed, and scrutinize the IT Bureau proposal as per our duty.

For me as an advocate for a dedicated technology bureau in government, what has saddened me more is not the delay in the setting up the bureau, but the divisiveness that this political struggle has imposed on our industry, and society as a whole. The endless filibustering in Legco is no longer about the new bureau.

While I support the new bureau with good reasons, it does not mean that I should ignore the reservations that many people in the community and even within the IT industry hold towards the new bureau. Some of them do not believe in a bigger role of the government as a matter of principle, but many others distrust the Chief Executive’s over-emphasis on integration with China. The government mustn’t ignore these voices and opinions.

While I am eager to see Hong Kong catching up with our regional competitors in technology development, government policies must be accountable to the whole of Hong Kong, and the public good must come first, before sectoral interest.

This week, a group of frontline IT professionals has created an online campaign to gather photographs from their peers who are opposed to setting up the bureau in haste. They call for the government to first disclose their plans, deliverables, and future key performance indicators. They have good reasons to voice out these concerns, especially after witnessing the Chief Executive apparently being only interested in positioning Hong Kong as a conduit for Shenzhen, and telling Hong Kong professionals to seek opportunities in China, rather than creating more quality jobs in Hong Kong.

Let us put an end to all the finger-pointing and actually get some work done right away. The Administration surely can, and must, resolve the current impasse and put an end to filibusters and confrontations, if only it stops fuelling the fire by placing blames and pointing fingers, in order to make political and election gains, at the expense of tearing apart our community. It must go back to working hard in explaining its policy blueprint and addressing doubters’ concerns, and bringing back the funding proposal for the new bureau in October.

Those IT professionals who do not have the opportunity to meet the Chief Executive and tell him what they think have demanded the government to rectify its own longstanding misguided policies that are industry-unfriendly – such as under-procurement of local technology products and services, and over-outsourcing of IT manpower within the ranks of government employees – these being issues that have led many frontline IT people in Hong Kong to actually believe that the government has always been a part of the problem, rather than trusting that it can ever become a part of the solution.

My commitment towards the IT industry and society remains: to develop Hong Kong’s technology sector as quickly as possible, with a shared vision that will be fair, and generates opportunities for all, rather than benefitting just a select few. It is high time that the industry put our minds together on how to achieve this, and not let endless bickering becomes what first comes to mind when citizens think of technology.

For Radio Television Hong Kong's Letter to Hong Kong, Jul 19 2015


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