Lawyers get short shrift at Justice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 October, 1997, 12:00am

Word is there's a spot of resentment in the Department of Justice over the impending appointment of an administrator to lessen the burden on Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie.

The idea has been around since the days of attorney-general Jeremy Mathews and enjoys Ms Leung's full support.

But not, apparently, the approval of departmental staff.

It isn't the expected appointment of Stephen Lam Sui-lung that is causing waves, but the nature of the job itself. Should it take an administrative officer to explain policy decisions, when that is what lawyers are trained to do? Furthermore, say malcontents, President Bill Clinton, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi were lawyers as well as politicians, and they had no difficulty in coping.

The logic of this is easier to follow if you overlook a few realities. Gandhi had the backing of the majority of Indians for his campaign. Ms Leung has no chance of blanket approval for the legal changes she will oversee.

Mrs Thatcher relied on press secretary Bernard Ingham to ram home her policies in a bully-boy fashion that often made matters worse. As for Mr Clinton, he has spent most of his time since being re-elected last November in trouble with the law.

Most of the stuff on sale at the Government's End of the Colonial Era auction was pretty dull - with seven exceptions.

They are listed in the catalogue as 'Used sword with Crown'. Used? Maybe during the Opium Wars? For beheading? Unfortunately, Director of Government Supplies Nigel Shipman revealed the only active service they had seen was cutting the cake at mess dinners.

Since the Chief Executive is fond of urging fellow citizens to study how the mainland does things, it would be interesting to know whether his decision not to send Christmas cards was motivated by a desire to upgrade his ecological credentials, or because Beijing has been ruthlessly trying to stamp out the same practice across the border.

Mr Tung had to hurry back to the rostrum after his speech at the East Asia Economic Summit on Monday because he had forgotten to take questions from the audience. But he needn't have bothered. There weren't any.

Can it be that his re-hash of the policy speech, combined with excuses about the pace of democratisation, has become so familiar there is nothing left to ask? Also at the forum was former British deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, the man who stormed from office as minister of defence in 1986 after a row about government contracts. He told his audience: 'This must be the first time that someone who has been so publicly sacked from his job has been invited to talk to others about how to do theirs . . .' They're silent, reclusive creatures, thriving in isolation and shunning human contact. Yes, that's a description of the panda, one of the world's most endangered species, but it's not far off the mark in summing up the staff in Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's press office.

It is 10 days since their boss announced that the motherland was going to give Hong Kong two pandas as a memento of reunification. Asked to provide details - who made the offer, and when we could expect the pandas - the press office faxed us: 'We have no further information.' A week later, in response to more urgings from staff at the Post, they've recycled the same fax. All that time to find out the answer to an eminently simple question seems to us to raise inefficiency to new heights.