The new year holiday is an important time for all of us. It is a time to pause and to catch a breath before we plunge into another year.
The new year is one of those all too rare opportunities to stand back from our careers, from school, college or university work or from the demands, and they are substantial, of running a home. A time to put every day concerns in perspective. A time to think about the things that matter most in life – the health, the welfare and the happiness of our family and of our friends.
The start of a new year is above all a time for families. From the many friends Lavender, Alice and I have made since coming to live in this community, I know that the family spirit is nowhere stronger than in Hong Kong. People come together to renew ties and to draw strength from each other and from the traditions and values which are the bedrock of Hong Kong's economic and social success.
The past year has been a year of steady, solid achievement for Hong Kong. The economy has expanded by about 5.5%, the 19th successive year of economic growth. And behind the dry statistics of economic success of the realities of rising living standards and greater opportunities for the whole community. Family incomes have risen. And our services to the community have also been improved as economic progress has made additional resources available to the government.
Let me give you a few examples of what this means in practice. During the past year we have been able to:
- Build an additional 66,000 new homes for families on the housing waiting list;
- We’ve been able to commission an additional 3,350 beds in our hospitals and infirmaries; and
- We have recruited an additional 4,000 teachers to work in our primary and secondary schools.
These are just a few of the ways in which we are improving our services to the public. These are real achievements. They contribute directly to the quality of life of Hong Kong's families. No wonder one of the world's most important business magazines recently voted Hong Kong one of the best places in the world, not just to do business but to live and bring up a family.
In Hong Kong, we believe very firmly that the quality of life can and should go on getting better for everyone. The community insists that problems should be faced squarely and overcome through enterprise and hard work. Hong Kong has a faith in progress and an optimism about the future which many other communities have quite simply lost.
This optimism, this confidence go beyond economic well-being. They have an impact on every aspect of our way of life. I think the best example in the past year of this determination to bring about improvements has been in the field of law and order, an issue which I know is high on everyone's list of priorities.
I know of no other major cities in the world in which the crime figures are falling in the law and order situation improving. I think the explanation for this remarkable achievement, because this is what is happening in Hong Kong, life in the community's respect for traditional values, its emphasis on the family and the proper education of its children. We rightly attach a high value to making our city safe in our society law-abiding. We rely heavily on our excellent police force to do so. But we all of us have a personal contribution to make to ensure that Hong Kong will remain one of the world's safest and most law-abiding cities.
Hong Kong is a very special place. Those of you who have lived here all your lives know this better than I do. It is a good place to work and a good place to raise a family. We are working hard to ensure that Hong Kong's special qualities are preserved. That our way of life is secured for the future.
As parents we spend a good deal of our time thinking about how to secure the best possible future for our children. We worry about the education and their prospects for finding worthwhile and rewarding careers. We can be proud of the way in which Hong Kong is able to offer its young rewarding careers, in fact a wider choice of career is the most cities in the world's advanced economies can offer.
Hong Kong office is young people a bright future because we are at the centre of the astonishing economic transformation of Asia. I am confident Hong Kong will remain one of the world's great trading and service centres not only in the year of the Dog but well into the next century.
Many of you will be listening to me from the warmth of family gatherings. Lavender, Kate, Laura, Alice and I wish all of you a successful, a prosperous and above all a very happy new year.
Kung Hei Fat Choy.