'Ludicrous' praise for bureaucrats

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am

Civil service chiefs have been praising their staff's work too much, according to a government watchdog.

Public Service Commission chairman Haider Barma said some departments had graded 60 to 70 per cent of staff as 'outstanding' during the promotion exercise.

'It's a bit ludicrous,' he said.

As the economic downturn has sharpened, pressure has mounted on civil servants. Their superior pay and perks and insulation from the economy have been criticised by politicians.

Public outrage escalated when the Audit Commission discovered late last year that hundreds of civil servants working outdoors were consistently late for work or worked only five hours a day.

The problem of over-grading in appraisal reports was found from supervisory to directorate and even department-head levels.

'I wouldn't say the problem is across the board. But in one or two departments, it is a problem,' Mr Barma said.

He urged department heads to crack down on the generous reporting by setting up review panels and moderating the reports.

Tung Chee-hwa announced a major revamp of the appraisal system and the linking of pay adjustments to performance last month. Disciplinary procedures are to be streamlined as well.

Detailed proposals are expected to be unveiled next month.

Mr Barma, who stepped down from the post of Transport Secretary in 1996, attributed the problem to staff being given access to appraisal records.

'Supervisors sometimes do not like to confront the juniors,' he said. 'The tendency is for the writing of reports to be more generous than before.

'In fact, if supervisors do not write accurate and fair reports, it reflects on their own supervisory and managerial skills. If that is the case, it must question their own ability.' He also hit out at departments for delaying submissions to the commission and therefore prolonging the promotion exercise from weeks to months.

'It's important that senior management's attention is drawn to promotion boards and they should be regularly briefed on the progress,' he said.

Despite the flaws, Mr Barma said the appraisal system was still the best option for a 180,000-strong bureaucracy.

The Civil Service Bureau said over-grading would be dealt with in the proposed civil service revamp.

'We will further review the existing performance appraisal system and propose measures to address areas for further improvement,' a spokesman said.

Clear guidelines and appraisal workshops were available and over-graded reports would be readjusted.

Mr Barma, who will be consulted on the revamp blueprints, said he broadly supported the directions outlined by the Chief Executive.

Officers should not be given automatic increments regardless of performance and disciplinary procedures should be streamlined.

The commission was established in 1950 as an independent body to advise the governor and then the chief executive on senior appointments and promotions.