|Technology is suddenly even more of a buzz-word in Hong
Kong than normal. It has become the panacea for all our
unresolved problems. It is the answer to our low productivity.
Going paperless will save our environment. It will speed
up business deals and reduce transaction costs, enhancing
Hong Kong's competitiveness.
Furthermore, IT boosts our stock market-just the concept
of technology stock is good enough to capture investors'
imaginations, and their capital. Even the Government
has helped by branding the Cyberport the saviour of
our ailing economy.
So, what is a cyberport? - someone asked me this at
a recent dinner meeting. Such a question would have
passed as being nothing of consequence had it not been
for the fact that most of the guests were from well-established
manufacturers which had been dealing with IT products
for decades. But, that night, no one could come up with
I would still like to know the exact origins of the
term 'cyberport', if anyone can tell me. However, as
far as I can gather from my younger IT friends, the
fashionable word 'cyber' comes from science fiction.
When loosely translated, it seems to refer to an imaginary
'space' where electronic data, information or thoughts
Furthermore, the Collins English dictionary defines
a 'port' as a 'town or place alongside navigable water
with facilities for the loading and unloading of ships.'
In other words, another 'space', or rather 'site', very
much physical and immovable in nature.
In this age of the Internet and communication technology
where physical barriers and limits have little meaning,
and where innovative ideas are jealously guarded in
high security, is it not ironic that the Government
wants to construct a purpose-built facility so as to
enable the further exchange of ideas on how to communicate
While I leave it to the smarter accountants to figure
this one out, it is no secret that I have many more
questions to ask the Government on the way it has handled
the Cyberport project. The most fundamental unanswered
question is the one I raised in my Budget response on
24 March 1999: 'What open and fair criteria did the
Government adopt when subjectively selecting a single
business partner for this project?'
As events unfold, this business partner is not only
enjoying an incredibly attractive deal in terms of real-estate
development, the whole project has also appeared to
have fast-tracked town-planning, giving the company
a prompt green light to list its shares even though
the project is far from certain. Also, one can't ignore
the fact that the project has moved at a legislative
pace that can only be described as unduly hasty.
As a legislator, it is my duty to consider all business
corporations and their dealings when appointing business
partners, without fear or favour. As such, I have publicly
asked many probing questions to take the Government
to task so that those involved can see that the way
in which they have handled this project could result
in much concern within the business community.
As a result of this saga, which probably leaves a bad
taste in the mouth of many businesspeople, not only
might the Government have to learn a hard lesson, the
whole business community could well be left wondering
whether Hong Kong's normal rule of 'fair-game' has gone
Furthermore, there are many questions that need to
be asked about the Cyberport's high construction costs
and its low expected land values, as well as the final
selling price of the developed properties. All these
unanswered questions indicate that the Government has
vastly underestimated the project's profitability.
The Government has also not answered questions on the
technology transfer it expects from acting as landlord
- at the time of writing, and despite the fact that
dozens of firms have registered interest, only eight
IT firms have signed letters of intent to rent space
in the development.
There is no doubt that the community needs to monitor
this project closely to ensure it is not just a short-term
confidence booster, but a real long-term commitment
to enhance our telecommunications technology.
We may also want to reflect on the fact that the brains
behind greater names such as Microsoft and Yahoo began
their blazing careers from a garage. Fancy bricks and
mortar have yet to be proven as a good way to invest
in technology. Other countries have tried, eg Malaysia's
impressive Multi-media Super Corridor project - but
some of my accountant friends in the IT business have
told me that not many technological fruits have been
borne in Malaysia, despite the appointment of an MSC
International Advisory Panel of the highest order to
guide the project, the heavy investment and major fiscal
However, there is no controversy in saying that investing
in people is a sure way of investing in IT. As such,
I urge the Government to look seriously granting more
overseas scholarships and at more ways of attracting
knowledgeable trainers to Hong Kong, eg to the Science
All in all, I can understand why the IT community finds
the Cyberport project hard to resist. It has definitely
raised Hong Kong's status (and international awareness)
as an IT city. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding
the project have pushed the Government to agree to consider
the necessary criteria for choosing a business partner
should another significant project arise.
However, despite my obvious scepticism, I sincerely
hope that Hong Kong will get the best out of the project
to warrant all the immediate fuss and sacrifices.
As usual, I would appreciate your views and advice
on the subject as I can hardly claim to be an expert.