Reasons to be cheerful

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 12:00am

Christmas is a time of good cheer. So, let us look at some of the really positive things about the Hong Kong government and public sector, which have come in for a lot of bashing in the course of the year.

First, there are the new identity cards. The Immigration Department deserves the highest praise for organising this massive exercise to get everyone to change their ID cards in record time. Staff are knowledgeable and helpful, and the processing speed is awesome.

Second, the Hong Kong police must be one of the best prepared - if not the best - in the world for very large public protests. After the unexpectedly large turnout of more than 500,000 people on July 1 last year, where on-the-spot decisions had to be made to let marchers through crowded Causeway Bay to Central, the police were ready to meet any challenge. A year later, arrangements had been improved, and protesters were able to move along smoothly. Credit must, of course, also go to the protest organisers, who together with the police have made Hong Kong an international best-practice example of how to organise mass demonstrations.

Third, the disciplinary forces look extremely good in their uniforms. A well turned out officer is an indication of strong discipline. Comparing our officers with those from other countries, Hong Kong's forces are second to none.

Fourth, since 1997, when the government had to take the tough decision to slaughter more than one million birds, Hong Kong has improved markedly its readiness to deal with future outbreaks of avian flu. Hong Kong can teach our Asian neighbours a thing or two about how to ensure preparedness in case the disease strikes again.

Fifth, Hong Kong has one of the world's top teams of microbiologists in the public sector and universities, working at the frontier of science on infectious diseases. While there were many problems to deal with during the Sars outbreak last year, Hong Kong excelled in the science field. This included the team from the police and Hospital Authority which developed a system to track, report and record on the spread of the disease that won them the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in IT.

Sixth, Hong Kong is blessed with magnificent countryside. However, the country parks need to be maintained. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department does a good job year in, year out to provide a pleasant experience for hikers.

Next, the Census and Statistics Department collects and provides the public with a massive amount of information. Its approach is competent and professional. A periodic trawl of its website can net a lot of information about many aspects of Hong Kong - useful for students, researchers, business, and even government ministers, should they wish to make policy based on solid evidence.

Then, while the Hong Kong Observatory gets blasted occasionally for misjudging typhoons, the officers there basically run a solid operation. They have collected a substantial amount of data about the region's meteorology, which is invaluable to researchers and scientists not just locally but also nationally and internationally.

And despite the bleating about the 'poor' service of our railways this year, Hong Kong has one of the very best operations in the world. Technical glitches are a fact of life. We are spoilt in Hong Kong because of the very high standards. Therefore, people get irritated with the occasional problems. Having just had to use the Tube in London, I am grateful for what we have.

Finally, the officers of the Transport Department deserve praise for daring to say it like it is - Hopewell Holding's Mega Tower development in Wan Chai, if built, will badly affect transport in the district. Can someone higher up pay attention to this?

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chairwoman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour and runs the think-tank Civic Exchange