Tung tackles civil service fears

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:00am

The Secretary for Civil Service will continue to be chosen from within the bureaucracy in an effort to allay fears that the new accountability system could undermine the service's political neutrality.

The requirement, announced by senior officials last night, makes the post unique among the 14 ministerial positions to be filled by political appointees. After being appointed, the civil service chief will cease to be a member of the service.

However, unionists and academics warned that Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's new system would still compromise the civil service's apolitical status.

The Civil Service Bureau is one of only four of the existing 16 policy bureaus whose responsibilities will remain unchanged under the framework to be outlined in detail next week. The other 12 have been merged or divided into seven bureaus. The remaining positions are the key posts of Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Secretary for Justice.

Significant changes include putting health, welfare, environment and food under one minister. Manpower policy will be split from the Education and Manpower Bureau, and will come under the responsibility of the Secretary for Industry and Commerce.

Unlike the existing power structure, in which policy secretaries answer to Mr Tung through the Chief Secretary or Finance Secretary, the 11 policy ministers will report directly to the Chief Executive after the system comes on line on July 1.

It is understood Mr Tung and his top aides had at one stage considered excluding the Secretary for Civil Service from the list of political appointees.

A senior official said: 'The Government has always emphasised the importance of the preservation of our civil service system, and its fine traditions of continuity, meritocracy and neutrality.

'As head of the civil service bureau, the [Secretary for Civil Service] has to ensure that policy and tradition are adhered to. If he fails to do so, it will be a dereliction of duty. It might not be good for the post to be taken by an outsider. Therefore, we will specify that this post must be filled by a civil servant.'

However, Senior Non-Expatriate Officers Association chairman Pang Tat-choi said he was concerned that staff interests would be sacrificed. 'He might put political considerations above the interests of the civil service.'

Mr Pang was adamant that the head of the civil service should reflect staff views rather than make political compromises.

Federation of Civil Service Unions president Leung Chau-ting said he was worried that the secretary would change civil service policies to suit public opinion. 'He is politically appointed and therefore would be bound to consider his own political career,' he said.

The concerns were shared by Cheung Chor-yung, formerly an administrative officer and now senior lecturer of City University's Applied Social Studies Division.

A senior official source said Mr Tung would elaborate on the 'unique role' for his two top aides, the Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary, when he attended a Legco session on Wednesday. Their role will include co-ordinating different policy bureaus.

The official said the Government would seek approval for about $43 million in funding from the Legco Finance Committee for the new structure, mostly for the ministers' pay.

Policy secretaries are now paid about $3.7 million a year in salaries, benefits, allowances and pension. 'The new political ministers will be paid the same in a lump sum. No pension. No gratuities. No compensation for early departure,' said the official.

Incumbent civil servants who become ministers will get the same retirement package as other early retirees. The three key secretaries will be paid between $3.8 and $4.1 million.

The official rejected criticism that there were still too many bureaus. 'Our major consideration is to put related bureaus together to improve co-ordination and work,' he said.

Mr Tung said before leaving for the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan that he was confident the accountability system would be a success.

The official source said ministers would have no power to sack their secretary-general - the most senior civil servant in each of the 11 bureaus - but could ask for them to be transferred.

A separate resolution to transfer power to the ministers under their new titles would be tabled to Legco. Beijing has been assured all the changes are within the Basic Law.