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SCMA speaks at opening of support service centre for ethnic minorities (English only)

     Following is the speech delivered by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, on August 29 at the opening ceremony of the International Social Service's HOPE Support Service Centre for Ethnic Minorities:
Mr Ho (C. P. Ho, Chairperson of ISS-HK), Stephen (Yau, Chief Executive of ISS-HK), Members of the District Councils, members of the Consular Corps, ladies and gentlemen,

     I am really very happy to be here today because this is an important day for you, an important day for myself and my colleagues.

     I would like to tell you a little story of how we came to conceive this idea of building four centres to support the ethnic minorities’ services in Hong Kong. About two years ago, back in the summer of 2007, my Bureau acquired the responsibility for the human rights portfolio. One of the outstanding issues at that time in July 2007 was that we had to enact a Race Discrimination Ordinance. I decided that racial harmony – in order to bring to fruition the potentials of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong – would be one of the most important priorities for the Hong Kong Government.

     You see, when I went to school, during my primary school days, I had classmates who were of Pakistani and Indian origins. We played together very well. We sat beside one another. So, from a very young age, I already knew the challenges and the potentials of being an ethnic minority in Hong Kong. And I also know how friendly all of you people are. I decided that, about 10 or 12 years after the reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it was high time for us to do something for the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

     You see, for about one decade, we have been dealing with the post-transition challenges of Hong Kong, of issues like the Asian financial crisis, on constitutional development, and we have sort of put to one side issues which were not clearly central to community life in Hong Kong. But the relations with ethnic minorities and how we can liven up your participation in the Hong Kong community would be very important. Therefore, aside from gaining passage of the Race Discrimination Ordinance, I and my colleagues decided that as a government, we should draw out the potentials and the organisational abilities of our non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It would be entirely commonsensical, it would be a useful strategy, we decided, for the Government to provide some resources and for the NGOs to organise these centres around Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories to serve the families and individual members of the ethnic groups among us. I am really delighted today, Stephen, to see this coming into reality. There are now four centres in Hong Kong, and the first one to enter into operation is the ISS Hope Centre. Let’s give them a big hand.

     Mr Ho, I am absolutely excited that this very modest vision on our part is coming into reality today. Just walking through, I saw people attending computer classes, young children dressing up for a performance, and their parents making them ready. All these are running into reality – what we really want to do for the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong: to give them language training, to let them retain their cultural diversity, to allow them to gain some practical skills like computers, and to integrate them into the Hong Kong community while retaining their cultural and historical links. That’s why this acronym – HOPE – “Harnessing Opportunities and Potentials for Ethnic Minorities”, is a vision which does not solely belong to ISS, or solely belong to the ethnic minorities. This concept, this vision, belongs to Hong Kong.

     I think what ISS has done today is a hallmark of what voluntary agencies and NGOs can do for Hong Kong and have done for Hong Kong all these decades. I go to the Mainland very often under my other portfolio, and one thing that they are very excited and wish to learn much from Hong Kong is the ability of the voluntary agencies and the NGOs in Hong Kong to provide educational, social and medical services. You see, they are prospering in the Mainland now. And I think the ability of our NGOs to augment and to support community development in Hong Kong is in itself an invaluable and intangible asset. This is something which we should broaden in all the spheres of public life in Hong Kong.

     I am delighted that ISS has continued to promote community development here. Within one year, this is the second time that I am attending an ISS function. Last year, we set a record in the Guinness Book of Records that within something like half an hour, we had about 80 people annunciating an ethnic minority harmony message in 79 languages.   

     This is a small beginning today, but it is an important beginning for Hong Kong. And I hope very much that in the months and years ahead we broaden this into a wider service, because in Hong Kong, we always pride ourselves as an international cosmopolitan community. This is the place which holds many success stories of rags to riches while many families have aspired and have attained upward social mobility, while many forefathers have gained a formidable future for their descendants. So, the way ahead of us is bright and let’s hope that the children who perform later will have a bright future in Hong Kong. Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, August 29, 2009