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Uphold Youth Ethics


Hong Kong is the envy of the world when it comes to a clean business environment. The territory practises free trade to the highest order and yet, it is a relatively graft free business place. A level playing field where fair deals can be swiftly struck and orders efficiently executed.
Business ethics did not just come about in Hong Kong by accident. In the graft ridden days before the establishment of the ICAC, our Government had learnt through many painful mistakes. Tough legislation was passed and powerful regulatory agencies put in place in the wake of appalling business scandals and major corporate failures. This regulatory framework can still be fragile if it has not been further augmented by an elaborate range of practice codes on ethics promulgated by business professionals such as accountants, lawyers and bankers. The network of legislation, regulatory authorities and high professional ethics together laid the foundation of investors' trust and confidence. Their confidence has been one of our leading edges over many regional competitors which makes Hong Kong a top international financial centre.
Like all fruits of hard toil and labour, the trust and confidence of international investors need to be jealously safeguarded. All that we have built up today may gradually slip away if the young people of Hong Kong do not share our ethical values. A recent survey conducted by the ICAC had revealed a worrying trend.
The new ICAC survey shows that out of 625 young employees polled, 41.2% said ethics among young people were low or very low, another 53.4% said they were average. Some 83% of them believed ethical standards were deteriorating. Their views were shared by 79% of the 498 bosses polled. When presented with a series of hypothetical problems designed to test their honesty, integrity, fairness and justice, a significant proportion of youngsters polled made their decisions based on self interest, paying little regard to conventional moral principles. They showed little loyalty to their employers; were more prone to make false claims of sick leave to skip work; would steal from office and tolerate the acceptance of bribe as a fact of life.
The increasing lax attitude of our young people on ethical principles could spawn another rise in corruption. It is time for us to take counter-action.
On 15 March, 1996, I shall chair a major conference on work ethics of young people to be organised by the ICAC. The conference, sponsored by HKSA and many leading professional bodies and business organisations, will launch a campaign to reinforce community education on the evils of graft among young people. I have invited major employers, school heads, senior social workers, government officials and young people themselves to help me analyse the problem together before formulating a concrete plan of action. We shall explore possible programme ideas which may help to raise young people's awareness of the importance of business ethics. The ICAC will also release the second part of the survey which compares Hong Kong's findings with those of young people in the United States and Singapore.
It is the responsibility of the whole community to uphold youth ethics. Accountants particularly have a strong vested interest. The government has increased its pressure in the last few months on accountants to report corruption and unlawful acts. It is now a matter of public debate on whether or not auditors of all listed companies should report suspected corruption and unlawful acts to the Securities and Futures Commission. As a matter of fact, accountants need little reminder to fully recognise the importance of professional ethics. During the course of public consultation on the subject of independent examination and professional accreditation last year, many accountants stressed to me that ethics should be made either a separate subject for professional examination or given a prominent position in our syllabus. This I will certainly do. As a leading professional body in Hong Kong, let the support of honesty, integrity, fairness and justice start with us.

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