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Embrace cultural diversity: CS

March 21, 2016

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Chief Secretary Carrie Lam

The Hong Kong SAR Government is very committed in promoting racial equality in Hong Kong. Almost a decade ago, in my then capacity as the Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, I was responsible for introducing the Race Discrimination Bill despite some reservations amongst relevant government bureaus and departments on whether equal access to public services would bring about significant resources implications and operational difficulties. The Racial Discrimination Ordinance was finally enacted in 2008, and the Equal Opportunities Commission has since been ensuring its effective implementation.

 

But tackling racial discrimination head-on is one thing; providing equal opportunities to ethnic minorities in a predominantly Chinese society calls for stronger government leadership and greater community efforts. In this term of the Hong Kong SAR Government, we are very much guided by the Chief Executive’s Election Manifesto that, and I quote from his Manifesto, "ethnic minorities are very much a part of the community", "they share the same sense of affiliation to our society as the rest of Hong Kong people" and "it is incumbent upon us to ensure that they also share in our prosperity". It should be our common goal to build a society that embraces cultural diversity and racial harmony. These values underpin peace and stability, which are so very important for Hong Kong - a place we call home.

 

While the some 200,000 ethnic minority people living in Hong Kong come from a diverse background, our own poverty situation analysis indicates that the South Asian community is in a more vulnerable situation. With the help of a Special Needs Groups Task Force under the Commission on Poverty, we accorded priority attention to address the needs of ethnic minorities, especially the younger generation, with a view to better integrating them into the local community. In January 2014, the Chief Executive announced in his annual Policy Address a package of enhanced measures involving over $200 million a year to strengthen support for ethnic minorities. These measures cover, amongst others, the areas of education, employment and community outreach. Through the various initiatives, we endeavour not only to meet the needs of the ethnic minorities, especially the younger generation and newcomers, but to unleash their potential and make Hong Kong a truly inclusive society for all. To ensure adequate dissemination of information to the ethnic minority community, a leaflet on those measures was produced in six ethnic minority languages and widely distributed. Indeed, this package of measures was well received by non-governmental organisations which are champions for the welfare of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. 

 

In terms of education, the Government endeavours to facilitate ethnic minority students' early adaptation of the local education system and mastery of the Chinese language. We have started implementing the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework in primary and secondary schools from the 2014/15 school year, with a view to helping non-Chinese speaking students, notably the ethnic minorities, to overcome the difficulties of learning Chinese as a second language. The ultimate aim is to bridge these students to mainstream Chinese language classes. It is encouraging that initial evaluation findings indicate that the school-based measures have produced some positive outcomes – non-Chinese speaking students in general have shown more progress in reading and writing than before. But these same findings also confirm a phenomenon that I am sure we all agree on, and that is, if one starts learning a language at a young age, it is more likely that one can master the language much better. Therefore, the Government will, upon the implementation of free quality kindergarten education policy, provide additional assistance for kindergartens admitting a cluster of non-Chinese speaking students.

 

Besides, to facilitate ethnic minority students' academic and career pursuit in future, we introduced the Applied Learning Chinese courses at senior secondary levels for non-Chinese speaking students to provide them with an additional channel to acquire an alternative recognised qualification. The Vocational Chinese Language courses for non-Chinese speaking school leavers will also be launched by the second quarter of this year to enhance their capability and confidence in Chinese and help them obtain recognised qualifications.

 

In terms of employment, we strive to ensure that people from different ethnic groups enjoy equal access to job opportunities as others, both in the public and private sectors. As far as government jobs are concerned, the Government had comprehensively reviewed and, where suitable, without undermining the satisfactory performance of duties, adjusted the Chinese language proficiency requirements and recruitment formats of relevant government jobs. I am delighted to see more and more ethnic minority faces in the civil service, particularly for some grades in the disciplinary forces such as the Correctional Services Department. Ethnic minorities are also engaged as Police Community Liaison Assistants to enhance liaison with the ethnic minority community. To date, there are 15 Police Community Liaison Assistant positions in 14 Police Districts. In the private sector, special efforts have been made, for example, in training programmes in construction industry in order to facilitate the ethnic minorities to play a part in our infrastructure projects.

 

On community outreach, we now provide funding grants for a total of six centres and two sub-centres, delivering a series of support services for ethnic minorities across the territory with a view to facilitating their integration into the community. We are also planning for a TV documentary series this year to help the public understand the cultures and customs of ethnic minorities, so as to overcome barriers and to promote inclusiveness. In addition, the Hong Kong Police Force, through the Junior Police Call, helps nourish the ethnic minority young people's leadership skills and instil positive values through JPC activities and training. The JPC had a total of 3,500 ethnic minority members as at the end of last year, significantly increased from 1,900 in the year 2014. 

 

Of course, we need the support of all sectors of the community to complement the Government's efforts in helping ethnic minorities fully integrate into society. It is therefore encouraging to see think tanks such as the Zubin Foundation propel studies and researches on the situations of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong and make recommendations for consideration by government bureaus and departments. I would also like to thank Shalini for her dedication in promoting the welfare of ethnic minorities, in particular women and children, and her persistent efforts in advocating corporate social responsibility. In particular, I welcome the launch of the Diversity List, which introduces us with ethnic minority friends who are interested in serving on government boards and committees.

 

Our advisory and statutory bodies serve the important objectives of engaging the public and getting the best possible advice in the early stage of policymaking and in the performance of various statutory or executive functions. In making appointments to our advisory and statutory bodies, we are minded to get the most suitable candidates from a wide cross section of the community. Each appointment is made on the merits of the individual, echoing what Shalini has said. I'm sure she is not expecting me to introduce positive discrimination, but really to draw from this talent list on merit, taking into account the candidate's ability, expertise, experience, integrity and commitment to public service, and having due regard to the functions and nature of business of the board or committee concerned. We would also ensure providing equal opportunities to all people, including people from different ethnic groups.

 

Over the years, we have already had quite some notable examples of experienced and competent non-Chinese individuals serving in various boards and committees to show the ethnic diversity of such appointments. For example, we have Amirali Nasir, an Indian, and Qamar Minhas, a Pakistani, sitting on the Equal Opportunities Commission; Aruna Gurung, a Nepalese, sitting on the Women's Commission; and Vivek Mahbubani, an Indian, sitting on the Commission on Youth. And I am pleased that Shalini herself is currently a member of the Transport Advisory Committee and the Business Facilitation Advisory Committee. I'm sorry to say that perhaps all of these names make up only the 0.4% that Shalini has just counted for us. They are all good team players who provide useful advice and assistance to the respective advisory and statutory bodies they serve.

 

With today's launch of the Diversity List, I am sure more capable ethnic minority individuals will be appointed to our advisory and statutory bodies, thereby enabling us to consider policies and make decisions with the perspectives of ethnic minority community in mind.

 

With all these ongoing measures, together with the unfailing support from all ethnic minority organisations who are represented this afternoon and non-governmental organisations in Hong Kong, I am confident that more and more members from the ethnic groups will be able to unlock their potential and contribute to our city, a city with racial harmony.

   

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam gave these remarks at the launch of the "Race for Opportunity: Diversity List 2016" on March 21.



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