June 24, 2006
Stepping out of Government House
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Today marks the first anniversary of my swearing-in as Chief Executive, so I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my experiences and feelings over the past year.
Moving into Government House gave me more spacious surrounds in which to live and work, but at the same time it made me feel smaller and more humble. It's the same being the Chief Executive. The more responsibility I have, the more caution I must exercise.
Before he retired, the former Governor Lord MacLehose was asked about the key to his success as governor. He said that it was vital to ensure that his policies could survive outside Government House.
The higher one's position in society, the more power one commands. The danger of this is that you can become locked within your own world, and detached from ordinary people. So I truly understand the importance of 'stepping out' of Government House. As most of my working life has been in the civil service, with long stints in the realms of finance and the treasury, I have had been able to hone my mental skills in areas such as forecasting market behaviour, economic theory, data analysis, negotiation skills and so forth.
All of these are based on cold facts and figures. The verification of data emphasises rational thinking. This sort of rational thinking is enough for a technocrat. However, in regard to the Chief Executive's job, rational thinking is just one aspect of the policy-making process. I must also have the heart to feel and learn about community sentiments.
To grasp the mood of the people you need to view issues from their perspective; and, to go into their lives to feel their hardships, sorrows and happiness. This is what we call 'empathy' - the ability to feel and understand the needs of others. If we can empathise, we will appreciate the needs of the community with a heart and balance the interests of all the various stakeholders to formulate polices rationally to achieve our long-term goals. But, how can we develop empathy? As I mentioned, rigorous training in the civil service helped me build a scientific, rational mind for making decisions. But, feeling the pulse of society is not about holding more meetings within the walls of Government House or scrutinising a couple more documents.
I have made up my mind to go out as often as I can, whether that be a district visit, dropping by a food stall to have a bowl of wanton noodles, taking a stroll in the market, or chatting with passers-by and taxi drivers. Brief as these encounters might be, I can still get a good feel of their concerns, their likes and dislikes and their emotions by listening to the tone of their conversation, by looking into their eyes and observing their gestures. No amount of statistical data, or any number of files, can give me this feeling of personal contact.
At first I didn't quite understand what 'lowering one's posture' was all about. But after this year, its true meaning has dawned on me. A political leader should never assume an air of superiority, or consider themselves part of a ruling elite, by taking a condescending attitude towards the people.
In my meetings with members of the public over the past year, I feel they have become more optimistic about the future and that confidence has returned. They are now more ready to joke with me and welcome me with smiles.
To me, Hong Kong people are fascinating. We are crafty and pragmatic, and sometimes grumble. Yet we applaud remarkable people such as Professor Stephen Hawking, who has shown us his indomitable will to pursue his quest against all odds. In crises, we exude the best of our humanity. During the SARS outbreak, we closed ranks to fight the deadly disease and many of our medical workers risked their lives to save patients. The faces of the brave doctors and healthcare workers now laid to rest in Gallant Garden have vividly emblazoned in my mind. After the tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast and South Asia, our residents donated generously to help the victims whom we had never met. So, I love Hong Kong people, and I love going out into the streets to reach out to them.
In the coming year, I shall devote more time to my walkabouts, to meeting more people and to learning your faces by heart. Next time you see someone who looks like me eating a steaming bowl of beef brisket noodles in a cha chaan teng, don't just wonder "Is that bow-tie Tsang?" Let's say hello and have a chat!
| Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,