Crisis warning system in place, chief reveals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 1999, 12:00am

A system to warn of potential crises was in place in certain areas of the Government, the Secretary for Civil Service said yesterday.

But Lam Woon-kwong said there was no need to put a person in charge of crisis warning.

He said senior officials had attended seminars on crisis management and effective communication in the past eight months but the Government could not rely on training alone.

'We welcome academics, the business sector, the public and legislators to give us indications if they see Hong Kong heading towards a crisis.' He said a 'crisis warning system' was in place in areas such as public health and the financial services by monitoring information available locally and internationally.

'We do not want one or two people to look out for looming crises. All civil servants should serve their own functions to the best of their abilities,' Mr Lam said.

Since its establishment, the SAR Government had been challenged in its crisis management but had learned many lessons.

'By definition, crisis is something that does not happen all the time and you cannot predict it. Crisis management is complex. If it can be solved easily, then it won't be a crisis,' Mr Lam said.

Bernard Charnwut Chan, for the insurance sector, referred to a report in which Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said top officials lacked crisis management experience.

'It would be an over-simplification to blame the mistakes we made on the lack of experience of senior officials in crisis management,' Mr Lam said.

He said the bird flu epidemic and Asian financial turmoil tested the administration's management but he felt the Government had handled them effectively.

'The fact we have managed to bring the outbreak of avian flu to an end and to stabilise the financial and property markets says a lot about our abilities to climb the learning curve quickly and get on top of problems.

'In co-ordinating the mass slaughter [of chickens], I believe we could have done better. We have learned our lessons and will be able to deal with it should the same thing happen again. I hope the public and legislators will give us the chance and space to learn as we go.' The main lesson the Government had learned was to prepare in times of calm, he said.

But Ng Leung-sing, non-affiliated, asked whether Mr Lam had contradicted himself by saying the Government had taken action in time. 'Early on in the financial crisis, experts and academics gave suggestions which the Government did not implement until much later,' Mr Ng said.