People have doubted the wisdom and the motives of Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang's high-profile declaration that she would not stand for election as chief executive of the Special Administrative Region (SAR). They say it is right for those who have joined the fray to make a declaration and those deciding against should have no need to issue a statement. So Mrs Chan's weekend statement, which spelled out the qualities of the chief executive she and the civil service were looking for, was unusual. Critics said that by doing so, Mrs Chan made a grave mistake and compromised the political neutrality of the civil service, a tradition that has contributed to the administration's efficiency. On the surface, this criticism is valid. But if Hong Kong people look back to what has happened since China and Britain were locked in a dispute over the civil service's transition, can anyone say that its political neutrality has been well-preserved? By arguing whether Mrs Chan was right critics are taking a rather simplistic view of the civil service's transition. It risks missing the real issue - how the civil service, especially the elite officers who form the backbone of the administration, sees its future. A key question to be addressed by the future chief executive is his relationship with the civil service. How is he going to relate to his top aides, the handful of principal officials and the machinery collectively? From the list of applicants, there is no doubt that all are alienated from the routine operation of the civil service, notwithstanding the fact that retired judges, Yang Ti Liang and Simon Li Fook-sean have been part of the establishment and businessmen Tung Chee-hwa and Peter Woo Kwong-ching have served in high-powered government advisory bodies. Their knowledge and experience of how to make the bureaucracy work is limited when compared with Mrs Chan and her team. There is no doubt that the future chief will need the backing of the bureaucracy. So far, all the chief executive hopefuls have assured civil servants that their service was valued and they were to be encouraged to stay. Whether these words will be enough to keep them together and to persuade them to stay and serve the SAR government is a different matter. Beijing can have no doubt that most of the top officials, if not all, will survive the transition. If Beijing has not sacked anybody or advised anyone to leave, the incumbent team is certain to be here on July 1 next year. But the question remains how long after the handover will they still be here? Many top officers, residents and expatriates, have pledged to see Hong Kong through the transition - the territory has been good to them: they have a fantastic job at a fantastic time with good money. They owe it to the people to ensure a seamless transition. But in their heart of hearts, they are also worried, even though they cannot speak out. What do they think privately when the election of the Selection Committee is carried out in such a non-transparent and unaccountable way? How do they feel when the exercise of inviting applicants for the top post has been seen as such a farce that even dai pai dong owners, the unemployed and retirees saw it as a game that they shouldn't miss? Are they concerned that in the future, they may be forced to be involved in affairs tainted with similar embarrassments? Under such circumstances, will their take pride in being part of an efficient and reputable administration survive? These are the questions that the future chief executive has to confront and handle. Otherwise, even if he can keep a capable team next July 1, he cannot be sure when it is going to fall apart.