| 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.