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Winner Takes It All

First of all, I would like to thank you for voting me back into LegCo. The clear mandate I was given reaffirms that I am speaking on behalf of a united accountancy profession. A united profession is important for many reasons - for dealing with current public issues, setting the profession's future goals and lobbying not just the HKSAR Government but also the PRC authorities to maintain the best possible long-term practice environment.

Following the September election, I met the HKSAR Council to share with them my preliminary views on the Chief Executive's Policy Address. In particular, I discussed:

  • investing urgently in improving the profession's IT skills and knowledge to gain a competitive edge over other professions;
  • lobbying the PRC authorities to remove the many artificial administrative barriers to the free flow of professional services from Hong Kong to the Mainland in the advent of China's entry to the WTO;
  • investing in training young accountants to ensure they are of a higher calibre, with a greater sense of ethics and enhanced linguistic and communication skills, and
  • strengthening the Society's self-regulatory role and keeping the public informed of the Society's work.

In his recent Policy Address, the Chief Executive outlined the opportunities for the people of Hong Kong under the title: 'Gearing up for the Knowledge Economy'. This was made with reference to the telecommunication and broadcasting markets which have been liberalised.

The Science Park, the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute and the Cyberport projects are also well on their way to adding a new dimension to our increasingly knowledge-based economy.

It is of no surprise, therefore, that a heated race between business enterprises, large and small, is ongoing to capture the great business opportunities that the new economy presents. Professionals, like accountants, play a key role in the policy address.

Not all business may win and there is no guarantee of a 'prize', even though for a few, there will be prizes, which will be 'jack-pot' sized. As such, companies must ensure they do not sit on the fence for too long, or else they will end up sure losers. The same race is on for the many professional sectors to build up their expertise and work out the skills and methods needed to deliver their services competently.

In my opinion, and in regard to the accountancy profession, this is much more than a simple make-shift process based on adapting traditional wisdom and accounting practices. It should be a drive to create and fill untapped niches by offering new professional services. Hopefully, more than just one or two firms, but the accountancy profession as a whole, will manage to claim a share of this vast market, where the profession is being recognised as being experts in the fields.

The role was play in providing assurance to applicants seeking to become Web certification providers (as stipulated under the Electronics Transaction Bill), and the WebTrust service two good cases in point.

The Hong Kong economy has not stopped evolving - from a fishing village to a trading post, from a fishing village to a trading post, from a trading post to an industrial centre, from industrial centre to a large and efficient service centre. The next important phase of Hong Kong's evolution is becoming clear: evolving into a knowledge-based economy which will support China's entry to the WTO. The Government has recognised this, as I'm sure the accountancy profession has as well. But what have we actually done about it?

Soon after the policy address was released, I publicly appealed to the Government to designate a Government Policy Secretary to support the development of professional bodies in Hong Kong. To date, the Government has not formulated a coherent policy for supporting and promoting Hong Kong's professionals, either overseas or in the PRC, and the limited action taken by individual officials has been sporadic.

The accountancy profession, it would seem, has had to struggle on its own, leaving the Government to continue playing the simpler, one-side role, i.e. that of the profession's regulator.

I believe it is an opportune time for the HKSA to take a strong lead in investing in our future. As a profession, we need much stronger research and technical ability to be in a position to identify new professional services that the profession can provide, both locally and beyond. We need to work on what to say to the Government and the public so as to get them to assist us as a profession.

We need to translate our visions into goals for the next generation of accountants through our enhanced quality training programmes. We need the input of full-time professional staff to document, present, lobby and help shape the relevant legislation and policies, rather than just setting up more 'think-tank' committees. We will only succeed if, as a profession, we are well organised in competing for a bigger share of the 'new economy'.

The Chief Executive has placed much importance on the future role of Hong Kong's professionals. He states: "Hong Kong has a wealth of high-calibre professionals who should have a competitive edge in the Mainland market."

I think he is right in saying this, but I am not satisfied that anything has been done about it. It is up to us to tell the Government how to promote us as a profession. And given that we are all competing in a high speed race of 'winner takes all', there is little time to waste.

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