Outgoing Secretary for Home Affairs David Lan Hong-tsung yesterday rejected fears that people would vote with their feet and leave Hong Kong to show their increased anger at the Government. Mr Lan, who will retire from the civil service on Friday after 40 years, admitted 'we have problems now' but disagreed that the situation was worsening. He said the number of emigrants had recorded a sharp fall since the handover. According to government figures, 61,000 people left Hong Kong in 1994, but the number fell to 30,900 in 1997. It continued to fall to 19,000 in 1998 and 12,900 last year, Mr Lan said. 'Some migrants have also returned to Hong Kong,' he pointed out. 'If Hong Kong is not a good place to live, why do they come back?' Referring to recent protests against government policies and reforms, Mr Lan admitted there were problems yet to be resolved and attributed them to the Asian economic turmoil. 'I understand some people are facing a hard time. Their income has dropped and their assets have become negative equity.' But he said Hong Kong's situation was not bad compared with some other Asian countries. 'On the whole, the boat has been maintained in a good condition. We are in the same boat and I hope everyone will stand firm.' He sidestepped a question on whether resentment in the Government had grown stronger. Mr Lan said the recent wave of demonstrations could remove the suspicion that Hong Kong wanted to tighten controls on freedom of speech. He stressed the Government was willing to listen to public opinion. 'There are many channels, such as district councils, for people to voice their opinion.' On retirement Mr Lan, 60, said he would visit Japan and Guangdong to see relatives. Although known for his frankness, Mr Lan refused to disclose his future career moves. Some private firms had approached him, but no decision had been made. 'Maybe I will join my son doing a doctorate degree,' he said. He would not entertain regrets, he added.