Business sector urged to play bigger role in political process

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2009, 12:00am

A former government mandarin has broken a decade-long silence to suggest the city's business sector must become more involved in Hong Kong's political process.

Peter Lai Hing-ling, the city's first ethnic-Chinese secretary for security, recently took up the post of honorary professor of public administration at the University of Hong Kong.

He said he was hoping to use his 25 years' experience of working in the civil service to improve governance in the city.

'Public administration has become more complicated compared with 10 years ago,' he said.

'One reason is that the expectations and demands placed on the government by the community have increased tremendously.

'When we were administrative officers 20 to 30 years ago, we learned how to write Exco [Executive Council] papers, how to answer questions in Legco [the Legislative Council] and how to write Finance Committee papers. But these are not enough [any more].'

Governance, he said, meant much more than formulating and implementing policies. He believed professionals in government needed training to help them interact with the public and engage it in decision-making.

'Many of them just don't know what to do,' he said.

He hoped his practical experience would be of use in training public administrators.

Mr Lai - who resigned in 1998 amid questions about the nature of his work for the British administraton - said he understood why some people believed democratic reform was the way to improve governance, but it was not the only way.

And the business sector needed to play a major role, he said.

'The old practice of going straight to government for any problem might not be appropriate now. [The business sector] cannot afford to ignore the political process. They need to get involved and get their hands dirty,' said Mr Lai, who is co-ordinating a series of workshops with other former civil servants to pass on their skills and experience.

Companies needed to develop the skills to engage independently with the political process, he said.

Hiring political consultants such as retired senior officials would not solve the problem.

'Political consultants could be dealing with 10 companies at the same time,' Mr Lai said.

'How can you know whether [a consultant] is working only on behalf of your business interests? Why not train up your own staff to deal with political issues?'

Rather than focusing only on single issues, such as selecting who gets to be the next chief executive, the business sector needed to change its mindset and have more wide-ranging involvement in politics.