Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying - a likely challenger for the post of chief executive - echoed the reported remarks of a top mainland official by saying civil servants should do more long-term planning for Hong Kong's future.
However, he rejected suggestions that Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was referring to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a career civil servant, or any of his ministers when he was quoted as saying that colonial rule had trained civil servants to 'listen to the boss' and that they 'don't know how to be a boss' after the handover.
'After the handover, the civil servants are required to have vision and ability in formulating long-term policies for Hong Kong,' Leung said yesterday.
Some commentators interpreted Wang's remarks, made to a group of visiting Hong Kong university students in Beijing on Tuesday, as being aimed at Tsang and those of his officials who were also former civil servants.
Leung, who has yet to say whether he will seek nomination to run for chief executive, did not think Wang was pointing the finger at anyone in particular.
He said senior officials from Britain had formulated long-term policies for Hong Kong during the colonial era, and civil servants carried out their orders. Civil servants now had to take up the mantle from the British, Leung said.
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former secretary for the civil service, disagreed. 'Leung has merely simplified the issue,' he said; civil servants had been involved in designing long-term policies even during the colonial era.
'Take the examples of public housing policy or the planning of major infrastructure projects. The ideas might have been initiated by the governor himself or a few top officials, but the civil servants were heavily involved,' he said.
They didn't find their role changed overnight with the handover, he said.
'Don't blame the system or civil servants. It's all about the person in charge.'
The chairman of the Senior Government Officers Association, So Ping-chi, also said civil servants had been involved in formulating major policies since before the handover.
Pointing to the fact the current administration's term runs out next year, So said: 'What kind of long-term policy can you expect the top officials to initiate?' He said civil servants should not be blamed.
It was not the first time Wang had made such remarks.
According to a member of a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations that met him in Beijing two weeks ago, Wang voiced similar concerns to them.
Meanwhile, the chief executive said in a video clip to promote his October policy address that the government has rolled out various important policies over the past few years concerning the city's long-term planning.
A transcript of the clip, which will be released on Monday, was posted on his Facebook page yesterday.