Measured pace in reform of the civil service

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 October, 2004, 12:00am

I refer to the letter by Christopher Cheng 'Civil service must step up the pace of reform' (September 28). Let me update Mr Cheng and readers on the progress of civil service reform.

Launched in 1999, reform covers the entire spectrum of the civil service policy and management system, including appointment, remuneration, staff management, performance appraisal, conduct and discipline, training and development, and retirement. It aims to ensure that Hong Kong continues to maintain a world-class civil service in keeping with the changing environment and to raise its integrity, efficiency, cost-effectiveness and overall performance.

Over the past five years, we have been making steady progress in reform. We have:

Reduced the size of the civil service by nearly 15 per cent from 198,000 in early 2000 to below 169,000 in August 2004 while delivering more and better services to the public;

Introduced the Civil Service Provident Fund Scheme in 2000 for new appointees in lieu of the defined benefit pension schemes with monthly pension payments after retirement;

Made the entry system more flexible for the intake of talents. Where appropriate, we conduct open recruitment for senior posts. Recent exercises include recruitment for the posts of government economist and chief information officer;

Implemented new starting salary levels and revised the fringe benefits for new recruits according to the market situation in 2000;

Streamlined disciplinary procedures as well as the mechanism for handling substandard performers and tightened up the criteria for the granting of increments;

Introduced two rounds of voluntary retirement schemes for grades and ranks with identified or anticipated surplus staff; and

Promoted e-learning and provided more diversified training to sustain continuous learning.

In the meantime, we are conducting a comprehensive review of civil service allowances in keeping with present day circumstances and achieving substantive savings. Also, we have commissioned a consultancy to advise on the methodology for a pay-level survey which compares civil servants with their private sector counterparts. We aim to conduct the survey in the first half of 2005.

While opinions may differ on the pace and depth of reform, it remains the objective to continue reform at a measured pace so that any changes can have the widest possible support in the civil service and the community.


Secretary for the Civil Service

Mainland and pollution

Frank Gilbert and others seem to think that the pollution in Hong Kong can be cleared away if we change the fuel used in our buses and goods vehicles ('If taxis can be converted to gas, why not buses?', September 29).

While this may have some effect, it will not get rid of the pollution. Thirty years ago the autumn brought clear skies and drier weather when the winds changed from southerly to northerly. In those days the areas of China near Hong Kong were mainly agricultural and there was no pollution. Hong Kong in contrast had industrial areas, diesel taxis, buses and trucks, but we had no pollution.

The main source of our pollution is the industrial areas of southern China and it is only when they change the fuel for their power plants and vehicles that we will get major relief. These days, when the wind is from the south, the pollution is far less. What is needed is for the government to talk to Guangdong officials to press for emission controls on their polluters.


All vote systems flawed

Any electoral system has its flaws ('Stay with popular vote', September 27). Look at the controversy over the recent Taiwan election with the inordinate amount of spoiled or disqualified ballots and allegations of an assassination ploy to gain votes.

There are allegations of criminal elements, bribery and corruption in many Third World countries, where one person, one vote is also practised. Suffice to say that no electoral system will satisfy everyone. My letter (September 24) merely stated a fact: that Hong Kong practises a system of proportional representation that is similar to the US.


Best to learn Putonghua

Learning to speak Cantonese is not as simple as Cecilie Gamst Berg suggests in the article on 'linguistic ghettos' (September 29).

Recent studies have shown that readers of Chinese use a different area of the brain to users of alphabet-based languages. Also, since spoken Chinese is tonal, the recognition and use of tones utilise yet another, distinct, area of the brain. So learning Cantonese in particular is a tall order, especially if the person is over the prime age for language learners.

Although 'almost seven million people communicate solely in the dialect every day', Mandarin is the No 1 spoken language in the world. Although Cantonese is arguably most helpful living in Hong Kong, Mandarin or English is probably more effective in business and academic areas.

When I moved here, I was advised to learn Mandarin because it was easier (four tones versus nine) and more useful on the world stage. It is an official UN language. More and more children are being taught in Putonghua and many Cantonese speakers have opted to learn it for business advantage. I signed up for a programme in Chinese - Putonghua track - which I am learning to read, speak and write. I can make out a little of what is being said in Cantonese and people usually know enough Putonghua to understand me. I agree that it is rude not to make an effort when relocating to a different country. Hong Kong is now a part of China, and as Kevin Sinclair says in his column, we better all learn to get along. That includes being able to effectively communicate throughout the nation, not just in this enclave.


Dispense with swagger

I wish to comment on China's relations with its neighbours and how this may affect Hong Kong's future.

The Hong Kong government has been trying to increase the awareness of people here, especially youth, in national and political identity. We have seen Hong Kong 'compatriots' feting China's sole astronaut and 'our' Olympic medal winners arriving en masse (as if we weren't represented independently). The government should reconsider what it is doing.

I have noticed in the last few years an upsurge in Chinese nationalism. This is more than self-confident patriotism. It borders on xenophobia, since the prevailing feeling is not one of reason but that the Chinese have a monopoly on virtue.

This is being vented now mainly against the Japanese. I am far less disturbed by the prospect of pacifist Japan joining the Security Council than I am of retaining China, which joined not long after the era of the Red Guards. Which country in the world is threatening virtually all its neighbours and has had more wars or border skirmishes than any other during the last 40 years? China. Consider the list: Russia, Korea, India, Vietnam, Tibet and potentially Taiwan.

I will no doubt receive a lecture on that great excuse for everything - history. Herein lies the problem. The teaching of history in most countries, especially in parts of Asia, is little more than propaganda.

So far, outpourings of anti-foreigner sentiment have not been well organised, but it takes just one person to give direction to this movement and we could see something sinister. Heaven forbid if Chinese athletes fail to win their tally at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I have visions of Hitler and Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. Three years later we were plunged into war.

As a tribute to Hong Kong people, so far we have seen very little of these problems. Self-confident, they do not dwell on history but look to the future. It is time mainlanders did away with their historical baggage and the swaggering which reflect a nation devoid of self-confidence.


Rueing Spanish attacks

I refer to the article 'Protesters lash out over attacks on shoe merchants in Spain' (September 30).

In the city of Elche, where the Chinese occupy most shops, warehouses were burned, and some Spaniards even said a Chinese would be killed every week. Why did they say that? We Chinese are doing too much business and the Spanish face recession in this 'shoe city'. Does this make sense? Assume that all Chinese leave Spain and the Americans move in and dominate? Will the Spanish take revenge until only their people are making money in the market? This made me think of how Hitler tortured the business-making Jews.

I sympathise with the Spanish and encourage them to stand up for themselves, but not violently.