Air miles ensure service with a smile

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 November, 1998, 12:00am

The term 'civil service' always seemed a bit rich. After all, as the adage for all ages goes, it's rarely civil - and you almost never get any service.

This adage never seemed more appropriate than in the past few weeks.

First we had continuing claims of gross inefficiencies in the operation of the Airport Authority at the 50,000 different inquiries going on.

Nothing new here: except we did have growing evidence that our most senior Government officials, such as Anson Chan Fang On-sang, had negative 100 per cent confidence in the authority's top dogs.

Then things got positively un-civil.

Hong Kong's Director of Social Welfare, Andrew Leung Kin-pong, made himself a shoo-in for the 'how to win friends and influence people' award with a couple of giant gaffes.

First he described social welfare payments for families of four as being too high - something bound to make him about as popular as Kenneth Starr at a Democrats convention among low-income earners.

Then, not content merely to lecture low earners about making too much, Mr Leung - the $181,050 a month man - rubbed their noses in it.

Somehow, he managed to fork out $70,000 on just the air fare for a trip to Israel, via London.

The first thing we'd note out of all this is that Mr Leung urgently needs geography lessons.

It might seem like stating the obvious, but London is definitely not on the way to Tel Aviv.

If the truth be known, it's several hours' flying time past it.

Who knows? He might have made other simple geographic 'miscalculations' like this on his clearly extensive travels.

Some basic re-training for Mr Leung on this front could save the taxpayer millions! Even allowing for his apparent confusion about world city locations, though, it takes rare skills of profligacy to spend $70,000 on a flight to Tel Aviv - even if it is routed through London.

Lai See tried gamely this week to match Mr Leung's abilities in pinpointing the most expensive flights around - but, alas, we came up grievously short.

We told our travel agent to hang the expense. We wanted to go around the world in first class.

Well, the highest price our agent could come up with for round-the-world tickets on the Star Alliance was $53,880.

This fare would allow us to travel first-class for 60,000 kilometres across 15 countries on six airlines.

For the more thrifty, there was always the $43,100 Star Alliance first-class deal: which allowed travel for 40,000 km across about seven or eight countries.

Seems we don't rate very high on the Andrew Leung scale of profligacy.

Still, just when you thought the news was all bleak on our public servants, help was at hand.

A report from Director of Audit Dominic Chan Yin-tat showed just how diligent the great bulk of our Government workers are.

Not for them the stigma of underachievement.

For the uninitiated, the report revealed scores of civil servants are toiling for whopping four or five-hour days.

A mere 37 per cent of Government water workers took lunch breaks of more than three hours - suggesting the other 63 per cent were really overdoing it.

The Government hasn't been helping things.

They're trying to offer incentives - such as barbecues - to work even harder than they already are.

We'd suggest this is grossly irresponsible behaviour on the Government's part - and could push workers who are overdoing it over the edge.

What the Government should really be doing is seeing how it can stop its workers harbouring this potentially fatal attraction to workaholism.

On this front, we may be able to offer it some modest assistance.

It's a course we're calling: 'How to Underachieve: The Homer Simpson Blueprint.' We're trying to sell this invaluable little aid off to the Government, so we can't give too much away.

But here are a few hints for civil servants struggling to cope with five-hour days: Stay up all night watching television. This will give you as much opportunity as possible to sleep during the work day.

Cultivate a substantial beer gut. That way, you'll have a soft pillow to sleep on during work hours.

Talk your bosses into sanctioning doughnut breaks to go along with your coffee breaks. It's not healthy to sleep that long without eating.

Come to think of it, spend as much of the time you don't spend sleeping at work, eating. That way, your meal times at home will be free for watching sport.

If you've followed the regime correctly, you should by now have about 15 minutes left in the working day.

Give yourself an early mark. You've earned it! There you have it: a sure-fire antidote to public sector workaholism.

So let's raise our glasses to the prospect of a new phenomenon. We're calling it: the civilised civil service.