The case for change

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 12:00am

The South China Morning Post started a series of articles this week to look at the issue of bureaucracy in Hong Kong. Has the problem got so serious that it hinders the development of our creative industry?

(SCMP; September 16, 2002)

There is more than a touch of irony when a proposal to enlist the private sector to help clean the streets is rejected because, in the words of one official, it is too innovative. Aren't civil servants encouraged to be innovative as the government strives for ever greater efficiency?

At a recent symposium, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa called on more than 1,200 senior civil servants to think outside the box as he rallied them to be more pro-active in managing change. Managing change, he said, was about challenging the status quo; it's about challenging existing processes to ensure greater efficiency, responsiveness and sensitivity in the delivery of service and the implementation of policies. The budget deficit also required the government to deliver quality services with less financial resources, he added.

To improve delivery of services and to reduce costs, allowing private sector sponsorship of street cleaning services would seem to qualify as a great idea. So it is disappointing when an agent for change, as described in our story (reprinted on Page 8, Young Post, today), is sent from one government department to another, with none having the courage to give a definitive answer.

Officials have grounds for reticence. Stripped down to its basics, it is about allowing private companies to get publicity from sponsoring the costs of cleaning an area. The idea is so out of line with existing government practices that its adoption would require the setting up of a new system of processing, such as sponsorship applications and monitoring the performance of the contractors involved. As the streets are already being cleaned by either workmen who are civil servants or cleaners hired by private contractors, the government's contractual obligations to them must be addressed before the sponsorship idea could be taken on board.

As much as we want the government to be more receptive to new ideas, bureaucratic inertia is the norm in government departments, as it is in many big organisations, and understandably so. The rational organisation of work is vital to the functioning of any organisation, particularly the government, which is not supposed to bend the rules simply because someone has come up with what seems to be a good idea.

Government departments must operate according to policies but what is important is that new ideas are not cast aside on the grounds that they do not fit the existing framework.

This week, the Post will publish a series of stories on the frustrations that people from various walks of life have encountered as they tried to shepherd new ideas through government red tape. Our purpose is not to find fault with civil servants, but to encourage a mindset and procedures that would be more receptive to change.


strive for (v) to make a very great effort to get something or to achieve an objective

status quo (n) the current condition or state of affairs Example: Arts Development Council chairman Darwin Chen said the idea to streamline cultural bodies was to change the status quo in which the council, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Culture and Heritage Commission have more or less the same role. (August 22, 2002)

reticence (n) unwillingness to talk about one's own feelings or experiences

strip down to its basics (phrase) to examine something in detail and get to the fundamentals Example: Stripped down to its basics, the latest right-of-abode case was about whether an individual could trust the Government and the courts to uphold his or her rights. (SCMP; January 11, 2002)

receptive (adj) willing to accept an idea or a suggestion

cast aside (phrasal v) to ignore

* Please refer to Page 8 for discussion points.