The government should not create another layer of politically appointed deputy ministers without cutting equivalent positions in the civil service, because civil servants would have so little work they could 'go fishing on Wednesdays', the Liberal Party chief said.
James Tien Pei-chun agreed political appointees would be better than civil servants at lobbying legislators, but he said the posts - paying between HK$104,000 and HK$223,000 a month - would not attract the best talent.
'Unless you are saying there is a need for two separate troops of [deputy] ministers and their assistants, I can't see why the equivalent number of civil service positions should not be cut.
'Civil service morale is no excuse, because there will simply not be enough work for them to do. Even now they can take Saturday morning off for a five-day week. They should go, unless you want them to take Wednesdays off as well to go fishing,' he said.
Mr Tien said he had already told officials his party would not support the scheme unless civil servants' numbers would be cut.
The government is proposing to recruit a deputy minister and an assistant minister to each of the 11 policy bureaus to conduct political lobbying work, at a cost of HK$62 million a year. It sees the move as a way of grooming political talent.
Civil servants have questioned whether the political appointees will affect their promotion opportunities and role in policymaking.
Executive Councillor Tsang Yok-sing, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said political appointees would help administration. 'After all, we are talking about a few dozens of millions of dollars,' he said. He is against cutting civil servant positions.
The approval of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee will be sought for the creation of the posts and their funding if the scheme is to go ahead.