Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Lawrence Wong, officiated at the Passing-out and Deputy Commissioner's Farewell Parade this afternoon (May 30). He inspected 113 Customs Officers who had completed a 20-week induction course.
Following is the speech by Mr Lawrence Wong (English translation):
Distinguished guests, colleagues and passing-out cadets,
It is a great honour for me to attend today's passing-out parade of the Customs and Excise Training School in the role of an inspecting officer. This parade ground brings back my memories of what happened when I joined the Preventive Service, the predecessor of the Customs and Excise Department, in May 1973. With mixed feelings, I would say that time really flies!
When I joined the then Preventive Service of the Commerce and Industry Department in 1973, the entire service consisted of only around 1,000 staff. Its main duties were passenger processing, cargo clearance and protection of revenue derived from dutiable commodities. Through 35 years' transformation and growth, it has developed into an independent department with an establishment of more than 5,600 staff. Nowadays, the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) enforces as many as 53 pieces of Hong Kong legislation. With its wide range of duties and functions, the department has become one of the major law-enforcement agencies of the HKSAR Government.
Looking back, we can say that the department has been making invaluable contributions and significant progress through various challenges in these 30-odd years. First of all, from 1970s to 80s, Hong Kong was alleged to be a drug transit centre. Being an agency responsible for combating drug smuggling, the department came under considerable pressure in the international arena. In 1980s and 90s, smuggling by land was infesting Hong Kong while smuggling by sea involving high-powered speedboats used by illegal syndicates was rampant. A market flooded with pirated articles, coupled with the proliferation of black spots selling counterfeit goods, made Customs officers tired out. From 1998 onwards, Hong Kong experienced an economic recession for several years. In line with the Government's vigorous implementation of Enhanced Productivity Programme (EPP), the department had to take the unprecedented step of reducing substantial manpower and resources in spite of rising illicit cigarette and fuel activities. Following the outbreak of the "911 Incident" in the United States in 2001, we were required to take up onerous additional responsibility in anti-terrorism. Notwithstanding the already over-stretched manpower resource, in order to contribute to safeguarding the safety of international maritime trade, the department implemented the Container Security Initiative (CSI) Scheme through internal redeployment. In recent years, there has been mounting public concern over consumer protection and product safety. Faced with all these challenges, by virtue of Customs officers' professional ability, esprit de corps and devotion to duties, we have succeeded in effectively combating each and every type of illicit activity and solving thorny issues one after another. Over the years, the department has won acclaim from both local and international communities for our remarkable accomplishments in areas such as combating drugs, anti-smuggling, intellectual property rights protection, suppression of illicit cigarettes and fuel, consumer protection and interception of illegal transshipment of textiles and clothing products.
On trade facilitation and customs clearance at control points, after the reunification of Hong Kong with the motherland in 1997, the department plays an important role in maintaining the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as a separate customs territory in accordance with the Basic Law. In order to enhance passenger and cargo flows between the two places and tie in with the economic development of Hong Kong, we have been actively introducing high-tech facilities, developing automation in our clearance systems, simplifying customs procedures and launching various trade facilitation initiatives. For example, we have developed a computerised Land Boundary System, an Automatic Vehicle Recognition System, fixed and mobile X-ray Inspection Systems for containers which substantially shortened the clearance time for cross-boundary trucks. On the other hand, the Air Cargo Clearance System developed exclusively for the new airport at Chek Lap Kok has further enhanced the operational efficiency in clearing air cargoes, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of Hong Kong in the international air cargo sector. Since 2003, we have joined the Container Security Initiative Scheme initiated by the US Customs to safeguard the security of the global maritime trade.
On international and regional co-operation, we joined the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in 1987. Over the years, we have been actively participating in the affairs of the WCO, including being a member of the organisation's Policy Commission between 1998 and 2000. Hong Kong Customs was elected as the organisation's vice-chair between 2000 and 2002, responsible for co-ordinating the co-operation among the customs administrations of the 24 member countries/territories in the Asia Pacific Region, as well as implementing the various measures formulated by the WCO for combating cross-boundary criminal activities and facilitating international trade. In addition, the department has also actively participated in the work of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation's (APEC) Sub-committee on Customs Procedures and assisted with the streamlining of customs clearance procedures and promoting co-operation between customs administrations and the business sector. In recent years, in support of the Mainland's 11th Five-Year Plan and long-term development of the economy and trade in the Pan-Pearl River Delta (Pan-PRD) Region, we have further reinforced our co-operation with the Mainland Customs by jointly formulating and implementing various clearance facilitation initiatives for cross-boundary cargoes, thus contributing to the economic and logistic development of the region.
Hong Kong Customs will mark its 100th year and celebrate its centennial anniversary next year. As an old Chinese saying goes, "it takes 10 years to grow trees but 100 years to rear people". Indeed, it is not at all easy for the department to train competent officers. Passing-out cadets, today I am pleased and encouraged to see your high spirits and smart appearance on the parade, which best demonstrate your vigour and enthusiasm for your job. Next week you will be deployed to different posts to carry out challenging but meaningful tasks which will give you a sense of fulfilment. I hope that you will observe the principle of "justice and integrity" when performing your enforcement duties, assume an attitude of "professionalism and courtesy" when providing quality services to the public, and set "lifelong learning" as the ideal of your personal learning, so that you can keep yourselves abreast of the times, adjust yourselves to the ever-changing social environment and meet the requirements for the sustainable development of Hong Kong.
In one month's time, I shall bid farewell to the big family of C&ED. I cherish the time when I worked in the department, during which I got so many good memories. Now I would like to thank colleagues at all levels for their support and encouragement given to me over the years. In addition to the colleagues of C&ED, I am very pleased to see so many distinguished guests and friends who attend today's passing-out parade, including officials of several government bureaus and departments, friends from the Mainland and Macao Customs, officers of other disciplined services as well as representatives from foreign consulates and enforcement agencies. Many of you have worked with me and helped Hong Kong Customs overcome numerous difficulties and challenges. Your continuous support, assistance and guidance have greatly benefited both C&ED and me. I would like to take this precious opportunity to express my cordial gratitude to you all.
Lastly, may I wish all of you good health, happy life and success in your work.
Ends/Friday, May 30, 2008