SIR Humphrey Appleby would be proud of it. Certainly, some of the goings-on at Lower Albert Road in recent weeks bore more resemblance to an episode of the popular British television comedy Yes Prime Minister than real life. First, Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang ordered a leak inquiry into the revelations which forced the Government into a U-turn over the Letters Patent blunder that threatened the validity of 202 laws. Now her security officers have begun an intensive probe into how the news have leaked that such a leak inquiry is underway. Mrs Chan denies any knowledge of this latest turn of events - insisting she has nothing to do with any inquiry into the leaking of the existence of the leak inquiry. But, at this rate, no one should be surprised if whoever is directing events, now orders yet another investigation into the leaking of the leak inquiry into the leaking of the original leak inquiry. And so it goes on - into the realms of absurdity. Even Sir Humphrey, Mrs Chan's fictional British counterpart in Yes Prime Minister, would be hard-pressed to carry an obsession with secrecy to such ludicrous lengths. As legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing has noted, Hong Kong's well-paid civil servants surely have better things to do with taxpayers' money, than to squander it running around in circles pursuing such matters. That is especially so in an administration which prides itself on its commitment to promoting press freedom, and improving access to information. And it is particularly pertinent when the information involved is hardly sensitive. Certainly, no one has ever suggested the Letters Patent constitutes a state secret, or pointed to any genuine damage done by the exposure of the blunder. Quite the reverse, since the revelations gave the administration the lever it needed to force the Foreign Office into revalidating all 202 laws. The only damage done was that the Government got egg on its face. Yet this, it seems, is seen as reason enough for a witch-hunt. An official statement, seeking to justify the leak inquiry, tacitly admitted as much, complaining only that such revelations 'make our job of policy formulation and presentation very difficult indeed'. But any government which invokes the Official Secrets Act purely to punish those who cause them political embarrassment is treading a dangerous and intolerant path. Lady Thatcher tried to do so while in power in Britain, only to find juries refusing to convict those she was persecuting. So too, in its own way, does Beijing, with the jailing of Ming Pao journalist Xi Yang for leaking some relatively innocuous information about interest rates. Nothing presently happening in Hong Kong can compare with his 12-year jail term. But recent events do reflect badly on Mrs Chan. In her 16 months as Chief Secretary she has won widespread praise for her handling of the job, not least from this newspaper. One reason for that is her success at putting the past behind her, and adopting a positive attitude towards the press. But recently her performance in this respect has begun to slip. She has given fewer full-scale interviews than before. Even her brief, doorstep encounters with journalists have become rarer. Perhaps there are good reasons for this. But, coupled with the absurd episode of the leak inquiries, it inevitably raises fears that we are beginning to see a return to the bad old days - when Mrs Chan was one of the Government's less accessible officials. Hopefully such fears are unwarranted, and recent events are just isolated hiccups in an otherwise largely flawless performance. But, if Chan Sei-man - as some papers affectionately call her - wants to remain the darling of Hong Kong's press, then she will have to recognise that what they write cannot be dictated by a PR schedule. And when stories appear that inconvenience or embarrass her administration, she should take them with good grace, rather than launch a witch-hunt.