SCMP Debate | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 27, 2015
  • Updated: 11:50am

SCMP Debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

Incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying has proposed a major government restructuring that includes the appointment of new deputies for the chief secretary and the financial secretary. The goals are to improve governance and accountability. In the latest SCMP debate, we asked five noted officials, scholars and businesspeople for their opinions on the restructuring plan and whether it will improve the governance of Hong Kong.

Q1 Do you agree there is a need to further expand the political appointment system? Do you agree the government should launch an overhaul of the political appointment system before further expanding the system?

Q2 Do you agree the appointments of deputy chief secretary and deputy financial secretary will help improve governance? If yes, explain in what ways; if not, outline your concerns.

Q3 What qualities should the two deputies possess? What do you expect the two deputies to achieve?

Anson Chan

Former chief secretary

A1 The political appointment system was first introduced in 2002 under the leadership of the first chief executive Tung Chee-wah. I have always expressed strong reservations about the concept particularly as, in the absence of a system of democratically elected government in Hong Kong, the principal officials appointed by the chief executive would have no popular mandate or political legitimacy.

The experience of the past 10 years has added to my doubts. Faced with successive failures in attracting into the top ministerial posts outside candidates of the appropriate calibre and integrity, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has fallen back on promoting civil servants to ministerial rank. This has robbed the upper levels of the civil service of able officers, damaged morale and blurred what should be a vital distinction between a politically neutral, professional bureaucracy and its political masters.

An embarrassing series of policy U-turns in the past few years and some shameless manipulation of the process of public consultation, particularly on constitutional development issues, have highlighted the lack of genuine accountability on the part of political appointees. The system has been brought into further public disrepute by the creation of additional tiers of under- secretaries and political assistants, many of whom are perceived to be neither adequately qualified or experienced to merit the very high salaries they are being paid. Taxpayers should not be asked to foot another HK$72 million to HK$73 million per annum to pay for additional posts, without being assured that their creation will genuinely improve governance and amount to good value for money.

In short, it is essential that the whole system be critically reviewed before any move is made to expand it further.

A2 Good co-ordination in the formulation and implementation of government policies is of course essential, but I have never believed that this is best achieved by creating multiple layers of administration. The chief secretary and financial secretary have pivotal roles in ensuring that their respective policy bureaus work co-operatively and effectively with each other to achieve stated policy goals. It is not their role to breathe down the necks of highly paid policy secretaries. The keys to good governance are transparency, clear, unambiguous lines of reporting and accountability and effective delegation.

During my time in government a post of deputy chief secretary was created in the late 1980s with a specific mandate to oversee the development of thinking on the further development of representative government in Hong Kong, including the introduction of the first directly elected seats in the Legislative Council. His portfolio was discrete and clear-cut and, as soon as the tasks in question were completed, the post was deleted. From what I have read so far, I do not see that a strong case exists for creating permanent deputy chief secretary and permanent deputy financial secretary posts whose ambit of responsibility is not clear-cut and will inevitably overlap to some degree with that of the chief secretary and financial secretary.

As a general point, I would urge the chief executive-elect, C. Y. Leung, not to rush into making major organisational changes to his administration until he has had some time to settle into the job and can evaluate the pros and cons of his proposals in the light of actual day-to-day working experience.

A3 In a recent article I wrote for this paper I commented that C .Y. Leung will be judged, at least initially, by the quality of individuals who are appointed to his governing team. The occupants of any new posts that are approved by the legislature will need to meet high public expectations as to their vision, administrative ability, integrity and commitment to 'one country, two systems'.

What no one wishes to see are posts created with portfolios tailored to suit particular individuals, or designed to promote achievement of personal agenda. The litmus test of any changes will be whether they do in fact lead to more effective governance and can provide a much needed boost in public support for, and confidence in, the Hong Kong administration.

Cheung Chor-yung

Senior teaching fellow, department of public and social administration, City University

A1 Let's not forget that the political appointment system was developed from the principal officials accountability system of 2002, and one important purpose of this system is to enhance the political accountability of the top policymakers of the government. Any expansion of the system must not lose sight of this important purpose.

If the incoming administration of Leung Chun-ying would like to expand the political appointment system, it will have to demonstrate that such an expansion will enhance both the effectiveness and the accountability of the government. I do not believe that Hong Kong can revert to the former system of 'government by the civil servants' since that system would fail the political accountability test. Right now, I am not aware of any credible alternative to the political appointment system; hence any talk of replacing or overhauling the current system is unrealistic.

A2 Leung's intention in creating this new tier of politically appointed officials is to achieve better policy co-ordination for the major policy initiatives of the new administration. This idea, in theory, is not a non-starter, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have several concerns about this proposed arrangement.

First, if the line of command and the division of responsibility between the new deputies and their subordinate bureau chiefs are not clear, this may create administrative confusion and accountability problems. For example, if there is a major political failure in the new government's education policy, who should be held responsible: the education secretary or the deputy chief secretary, who is also overseeing the education portfolios?

Second, will the two new deputies be directly responsible to the chief executive? If yes, it is important to avoid unhealthy competition between the chief secretary and the financial secretary on one hand, and their deputies on the other. But if the line of command of the deputies goes through the chief secretary and the financial secretary, it could cause further confusion since one policy portfolio apparently may involve three subject officers who all have responsibility over that policy.

A3 Given the nature of their jobs, the deputies need to be excellent co-ordinators. The problem of a political deputy who plays second fiddle at the highest level is always two-fold. On the one hand, while he/she is co-ordinating various policy portfolios within his/her political remit, he/she at the same time will have to demonstrate his/her own unique leadership role does not undermine the contributions of his/her political subordinates (ie the bureau secretaries) who have direct responsibility over their respective policy areas.

On the other hand, such a unique leadership role must have the full support of the political chief and must not be perceived as a threat to the chief's authority or contributions. We all know that Leung intends to be a strong chief executive for the coming 10 years and the two deputies are there to carry out the major promises he made in his policy platform for his new administration and for his re-election in 2017. These two deputies must perform really well in order to deliver Leung's promises, presumably in a way that must not outshine Leung's performance, yet is unique and strong enough to distinguish their policy contributions from the bureau secretaries.

When [the influential 4th Century BC philosopher] Zhuangzi talked about the enlightened political leader, he had this to say: 'His deeds spread over the whole world, but seem not from himself. His riches are loaned to the myriad things, but the people do not depend on him. He is there, but no one mentions his name.'

To me, this is the best description of leadership by co-ordination. This is a very tall order for the deputies.

Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun

Head of the Office of the chief executive-elect

A1 The purposes of reorganising the government secretariat are: (a) to enhance the capacity of the team of politically appointed officials in reaching out and feeling the pulse of the community and stakeholders, so that policies will align more closely with public aspiration; (b) to strengthen the co-ordination of policy formulation and implementation that cut across policy programmes, and develop longer-term plans, e.g. retirement protection for an ageing population and sustainable development; and (c) to step up efforts in expanding the economic base of Hong Kong by capitalising on the opportunities arising from the rapid economic development on the mainland and nurturing competitive industries, e.g. innovation and technology.

The proposed reorganisation addresses many of the concerns conveyed to Leung Chun-ying during his election campaign, e.g. demand for an adequate supply of affordable housing, a more holistic culture policy and more support for the pillar and emerging industries. With or without the proposed reorganisation, the political appointment system is here to stay. The present proposal will increase the number of politically appointed officials, but the 'system' remains unchanged in that there is no change to the respective roles of the officials vis-?vis the civil service.

Leung has pledged to improve the appointment system by increasing the visibility and accountability of politically appointed officials at all levels, engaging bureau secretaries in the recruitment of their undersecretaries and political assistants, and aligning the vision of the leadership team to work in unison.

A2 Since 1997, the workload of the chief secretary and financial secretary has increased significantly. Local politics and cross-border issues have taken up much of their time and energy, not to mention the challenges arising from a more volatile global economic environment and public demands for more and better services as society becomes more affluent and sophisticated. As a result, the tendency is for 'the urgent' to crowd out 'the important' in competing for the time and attention of the chief secretary and financial secretary.

Strategic and long-term planning is the first casualty. Cross-bureau policies that require co-ordination and holistic implementation also suffer. For example, the last Long-term Housing Strategy report was published in 1997, welfare and medical services could benefit from clearer service standards and manpower plans, and a lot more needs to be done to develop a comprehensive population policy.

The heavy workload on the chief and financial secretaries also leaves little room for reaching out to the community. The proposed deputy chief secretary will have a distinct portfolio with emphasis on policies relating to human resources, including education, labour and welfare, and culture. He will assist the chief secretary in implementing decisions of the Steering Committee on Population Policy that require cross-bureau co-ordination (e.g. retirement protection for an ageing population, assessing the social impact of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents), and in steering the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District. In addition, the deputy chief secretary will take on other tasks as assigned by the chief secretary , e.g. reviving manpower planning studies, initiating medium and long-term planning for the development of welfare services, co-ordinating and formulating a holistic youth policy and children's policy, and mapping out a strategy for promoting Hong Kong as an education and culture hub. All of these require co-ordination among bureaus.

The proposed deputy financial secretary will support the financial secretary in expanding and diversifying the economic base of Hong Kong, with a view to creating wealth and generating revenue to improve the quality of life of the people. More specifically, the deputy financial secretary will be responsible for implementing economic co-operation agreements signed with mainland authorities, promoting Hong Kong's development as set out in the national five-year plan, and developing policies to support trade and industries, including maritime, air, logistics, tourism, technology and communications.

In a nutshell, the deputy financial secretary will work with the industries to enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong.

A3 Commitment, competence and political prowess are the three basic criteria which Leung applies in recruiting politically appointed officials. In addition, the deputies will have to be strong leaders, who can motivate and command following; proactive learners, who can master the wide range of issues under their charge; team players, who can work with people of varying backgrounds from within or outside the government; and good communicators, who can find resonance with the people of Hong Kong.

We expect the new government to embrace a longer-term vision and to reach out more to the people. We expect policies to be better co-ordinated and to align more closely with people's aspirations. At the end of the five-year term, we expect the economy to have expanded both in size and scope, and our society to be more prosperous, just and progressive.

So Ping-chi

Chairman emeritus of the Senior Government Officers Association

A1 I agree with the chief executive-elect's restructuring proposal because what he has been doing is attempting to solve the city's problems and to fulfil his election manifesto. For example, his push to expand the political appointment system and to restructure the Housing and Transport Bureau have shown that Leung has paid greater attention to the city's housing problem. It is also necessary to expand the political appointee system because most people cannot tell the difference between the duties of civil servants and political appointees.

As a matter of fact, civil servants should be responsible for deliberating on policies. And the political appointees should be promoting policies and canvass support from the public - which require more effort and manpower. However, under the current structure, there are not enough political appointees to promote policies or to engage with the stakeholders, and therefore, it is necessary to expand the system.

The incumbent political appointees could only 'fight fire' when facing criticism, rather than sparing time to outline long-term policies. In some worse scenarios, civil servants have had to take up part of the responsibilities for the political appointees - leaving them inadequate time to fulfil their own duties.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has already been losing its competitive edge against our neighbouring cities - and one of the reasons for the slow economic progress was attributed to the government's structure. If we use the existing bureau structure, we cannot expect any improvements in policy implementation. The restructuring should be completed sooner rather than later - it leaves little space for the delays spent on full consultation. Hong Kong will be falling behind further if we delay the restructuring.

A2 The problem of the existing structure is that the chief secretary has to oversee many policy issues. It is necessary to appoint deputies to the chief secretary and the financial secretary in helping them to outline and oversee the long-term planning of various policies.

Given that, the political reality is that Leung could not set up a new post which is at the same rank as the chief secretary to share the chief secretary's workload, and setting up a new bureau minister could not tackle the existing administration problem either. Setting up the deputy positions should be the best solution.

The deputy chief secretary will need to oversee cultural policies - which people would not pay much attention to but which has a far-reaching impact if we fail to have long-term policies. On education and labour, if the government fails to outline a comprehensive plan to address problems, it could lead to deep-rooted conflicts in society. For the deputy financial secretary, he should be able to explore business opportunities in international trade for the city's companies, and oversee the development of individual industries such as aviation.

A3 It would be very difficult to find a suitable candidate for the post of deputy chief secretary as he will need to oversee different aspects of policies. Dealing with cultural and educational policies, for example, requires experience in handling related issues. On labour issues, he is expected to have a comprehensive understanding of the needs and problems encountered by the grass roots, as well as experience or a background in labour unions. The qualities required are much diversified.

Meanwhile, he is expected to have political skills in accommodating different views and experience in the administration would also give him an advantage in co-ordinating the works of bureaus. Therefore, the position might be taken up by a former civil servant.

However, the position of deputy financial secretary, would not, I think, be suitable for a former civil servant as he is expected to handle issues related to international trade. Therefore, he is required to have the vision to explore business opportunities and extensive networks in business circles - qualities contrary to those of civil servants, who work according to regulations and tend to be cautious.

Anthony Wu

Chairman, Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre

A1The proposed reorganisation allows the new government to operate in accordance with the chief executive-elect's vision as presented in his manifesto. It should bring better focus and co-ordination among bureaus by streamlining the overall planning and execution of different policy areas, develop political talent and allow secretaries, their deputies and political assistants more time to hit the streets, feel the pulse of the people and engage the public and civil society. These are good initiatives to align governance with the rising aspirations and expectations of the public.

I certainly support the plan to expand the political appointment system. A perfect system is an ever-evolving process, and crucial to the new administration is how to make the system work, which can be started with appointing the right people to fill these positions.

As we all know, nurturing political talent is fundamental to the long-term development of a healthy political system in Hong Kong, especially when we are moving towards universal suffrage. While the performances of some of the political appointees may fall short of expectation, this should not deter the expansion of this system as developing political talent is of paramount importance to the future of Hong Kong.

To attract the right candidates from different sectors to take up political appointments, we need more incentives and more flexibility in the system. A revolving door mechanism is very important in this regard. We should encourage more academic institutions, research centres and businesses to actively participate in this. We should even go further to consider allowing political appointees to return to the civil service.

A2 It does make a lot of sense for the new government to adopt a coherent approach to housing and economic development by streamlining the planning, decision-making and implementation of policies that fall under the same areas.

Ideally, the appointments of deputy chief secretary and deputy financial secretary under the new structure should facilitate co-ordination between bureaus, speed up the policy-making process and enhance the effectiveness of policy implementation. With an expanded team, the government should also be able to better reach out and gauge the mood of the public to more effectively fit and incorporate changing aspirations into its long-term plans. These factors are all part and parcel of effective governance.

However, while it is essential to put in place the right system, we should not neglect the two other essential factors that make the right system work - people and actions. For the new chief executive to achieve the ultimate objectives of creating the two new deputy posts, he will need to attract the right people who possess the right attributes to fill the posts, draw the reporting lines clearly and specify the concrete duties that they have to perform to prevent overlap of service scopes.

Clear reporting lines are important for accountabilities and effective management. The deputies should have either a direct reporting line to the chief secretary and the financial secretary with a dotted-line relationship with the chief executive, or vice versa. I prefer the former.

A3 First, they need to be competent and committed, with a high level of interpersonal skills. A thorough understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing Hong Kong is also essential.

At Bauhinia, what matters to us most is our city will remain competitive regionally and globally. We hope the new deputies will have a significant role to play in facilitating cross-bureau policy-making and implementation, resolving the deep-rooted conflicts in society and in enhancing Hong Kong's competitiveness amid the rapidly changing external environment and the increasingly intense competition.

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