Political pressure blamed for top Hong Kong civil servants quitting before their retirement date

Lawmaker calls for action as civil servants quit before their retirement date only to re-emerge later in senior roles with statutory bodies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Increasing political pressure on civil servants is being blamed for a continuing brain drain in which officials resign before their retirement date - only to resurface in top positions in statutory and quasi-official organisations.

Three more high-profile names have been in the news recently, raising to at least 14 the number of senior civil servants who have made the move since 2006.

"There is a brain drain in the government, and the Civil Service Bureau must deal with the problem," said lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former secretary for security.

"It's because the kitchen is getting too hot, and being an executive director at [a statutory body] might be [as well paid as] being financial secretary, with much less political pressure."

Among those to depart were Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, who will take over at the Vocational Training Council after resigning as permanent secretary for home affairs in 2010.

Augustine Ng Wah-keung will become chief executive of the Estate Agents Authority after resigning as project director for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in August.

And Darryl Chan Wai-man, who was press secretary to Henry Tang Ying-yen during Tang's tenure as chief secretary, will leave the government at the end of this month. Currently deputy secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Chan will reportedly join the Monetary Authority, probably as an executive director.

Since September 2009, at least eight administrative officers from the elite directorate grade have resigned and joined the public sector, along with at least six other senior officials.

Dr Li Pang-kwong, a political scientist at Lingnan University, agrees with Ip that increasing political pressure on bureaucrats is responsible for much of the trend.

"[Senior civil servants] find that their work has changed since the days they first joined the government … there is now more and more lobbying, and more pressure … so they might be seeking new prospects in statutory bodies instead," Li said.

Many critics have called Hong Kong's statutory and quasi-official bodies "clubs for former officials". Li said the government must be careful to avoid any such negative impression among the general public, and the creation of any conflict of interest.

Ng was appointed to his new job at the Estate Agents Authority after he was judged the most suitable of 38 candidates.

Yau took early retirement from the Home Affairs Bureau when she was only 54. She got the Vocational Training Council position early last month and takes office in January.

One former administrative officer who followed a similar path several years ago said the pattern made sense. "Operations and work procedures of the government and quasi-official organisations are quite similar," the official said.

"Quasi-official organisations have to deal with government departments regularly. If a quasi-official organisation looks for someone familiar with government policies and the decision-making process, they will naturally turn to former or serving officials."