• Sun
  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 9:16pm

Government has compromised civil service's political neutrality

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2008, 12:00am

I applaud Christopher Cheng's article ('No way to govern', August 21) on the Leung Chin-man incident, which in my judgment contains some of the most sensible and principled comments I have seen so far on this case.

I cannot agree more with Mr Cheng's conclusion that while all governments cannot ignore public opinion, 'they also need to know when to run true to principle'.

However, I have reservations about his suggestion of ending the tenure system of the civil service as a solution to the kinds of problems found in this case.

One reason for this is that the tenure system is a bulwark of one core value of our civil service, namely that higher civil servants must be able to render their internal advice without fear and favour to ministers, who are ultimately accountable for the decisions made in government.

The fact that the Civil Service Bureau has made public the advice the secretary for the civil service received from the permanent secretaries of the relevant bureaus before she made the decision to approve Mr Leung's application, in its report to the chief executive on this case, has gravely undermined this core value.

This core value is essential to the principle of political neutrality of civil servants.

By allowing the permanent secretaries' advice to go public the government has effectively put the permanent secretaries on trial by public opinion and signalled to all civil servants that they should second guess the political consequences of their advice instead of speaking their minds in the future.

This unprincipled move by the government has put genuine accountability and the political neutrality of the civil service at risk.

I therefore think that now is the time for the government to run true to this important principle.

Cheung Chor-yung, senior teaching fellow, department of public and social administration, City University of Hong Kong

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