Explanation needed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 May, 2002, 12:00am

The case of Teresa Tse Yip Siao-bing, the former assistant director of information technology services who, it has been revealed, was sacked under a catch-all provision in the government's Public Service (Administration) Order, raises some intriguing questions about how disciplinary procedures are managed in the civil service.

In Ms Tse's case the old adage applies: if they don't get you one way, they'll get you another.

Ms Tse was initially investigated by the ICAC. Subsequently, she was then the subject of an internal civil service inquiry. Both probes apparently revealed nothing that would allow charges to be brought, or that would allow the Government to take disciplinary action against her.

The justice or otherwise of Ms Tse then being forced to retire by the Chief Executive on the grounds of public interest following the evocation of section 12 of the Public Service (Administration) Order, is not the focus of controversy, however. It is impossible to draw conclusions about the appropriateness of this decision because the facts of the final investigation were not made public.

What is of concern, however, is that the civil service's investigative procedures appear, at least, to have been employed merely as window dressing in this case. And the cost to the taxpayer has been enormous.

That the investigations should take three years to complete is plainly ridiculous. During this period Ms Tse remained suspended from office. This not only meant that she was being paid - what finally amounted to - a full salary, but that further costs had to be borne because others had to carry out her duties. In addition, there is the cost of the investigations themselves.

Clearly, it is in everyone's interests that the civil service should operate objective and exhaustive disciplinary procedures. But the question must be asked: why was the first internal investigation held when its findings, if unsatisfactory from the Government's perspective, were to be ignored and section 12 of the Order employed?

A government statement makes it clear that this particular case was complex and that the time it takes to carry out investigations has been reduced since early 2000 when the disciplinary mechanism was modified: the average time for the process is now between five and 15 months. Nevertheless, this does not clarify why Ms Tse was not forced to retire before an internal investigation was carried out, as it is clear from subsequent events that there was a determination that she should be removed from office - one way or another. A proper explanation from the Government is owed.