Hard lessons to be learned from recession

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 December, 1998, 12:00am

The recent rebound of the stock and the property markets has rekindled hopes of a full-scale economic recovery after a year of doom and gloom. People are looking forward to a faster return than was expected of the bull market, maybe even well before the end of next year.

I can understand that most of us have been desperate for omens of prosperity. But the stark fact is that, while corporations undergo slimming exercises and scale down operating expenses, the economy will shrink further rather than experience revitalisation. Next year, we should expect to see more store closures and intense conflicts between employers and employees.

It hurts our pride to admit to these facts, because over the past few decades we have enjoyed many privileges. People find it difficult to contain their feelings of frustration. The global economic decline, which was triggered by the regional financial crisis, is inexorably forcing us to think deeply about our economy, our beliefs and, indeed, our lives.

We had become used to a buoyant economy with only brief setbacks, as Hong Kong had long been the strategic gateway to China. Now we are primarily working on our own while the mainland is turning out to be our competitor as its major cities make great strides in the development of their networking and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in almost every area, Singapore remains a keen competitor. Singapore's veteran statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, has said that those in charge of Hong Kong lack experience in crisis management. He said: 'The British did not put them in charge long enough to develop that cool in a storm. Our officials have gone through many squalls in the last 35 years.' (South China Morning Post, December 3).

This is essentially true. Our economy has been going nowhere since the stock and the property market bubbles burst. It is time to overhaul the fundamentals of our community, reorganise our plans and look again at what we believe in. To my disappointment, however, many people are still wallowing in nostalgia. Despite the recession, they cannot let go of their benefits and privileges.

We have heard so many complacent remarks made about Hong Kong's strengths, but unlike Singapore or Taiwan, we seem to have a very poor grasp of the realities of this crisis. People keep complaining. Pride has become our greatest impediment.

We have to face facts. Things have changed. We started with nothing and became successful, but it has become difficult to become even more successful. We do have strengths, but we must not automatically assume we will be successful in all areas. In order to get out of this crisis, we may have to start from the foundations.

First of all, we must erase these feelings of pride. We have to learn from the experts and develop the skills needed to become highly competitive in the global market.

We should not see having to tolerate salary cuts and a lower standard of living as being the end of the world. If we think of the long-term challenges that lie ahead we can see things in perspective and realise that the recent setback is just a necessary adjustment. There are no panaceas, but if we have the right attitude, we can prevail.

BERNARD CHAN Legislative Councillor