The private meetings between Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa and a handful of former senior officials have prompted intense speculation about the real purpose of these get-togethers. Questions about the background and calibre of the top echelons in the civil service as well as their intentions after the handover and their suitability for sensitive posts might have been touched on during the meetings, but the sessions were held behind closed doors. Serving civil servants are reportedly anxious and worried, wondering whether the discussions have affected their future. No doubt these rumours reached Mr Tung and the leader-in-waiting felt obliged to calm the civil servants by urging an end to the speculation. In short, his message was that there is no hidden agenda in these sessions. He made it clear that he had not made plans to draft the former senior officials to his future governing team and the meetings were meant to bolster his understanding on a wide range of policy issues and some background of serving officers. The open assurance of Mr Tung should provide timely relief for those who may worry about an imminent shake-up, but it does not mean senior civil servants can assume their present positions are assured. Realistically, former senior officials - including one-time secretary for housing, Donald Liao Poon-huai, the former secretary for education and manpower, John Chan Cho-chak, the former secretary for transport, Yeung Kai-yin and the former commissioner of police, Li Kwan-ha - whom Mr Tung met are unlikely to be interested in rejoining the civil service even if invited. They are unlikely to want to return to the fray. As for the possibility that Mr Tung might ask them about the particulars of serving policy secretaries, the incumbent officials should feel relieved rather than worried. While it is true that the foursome have left the Government for different reasons, they were basically loyal to the service and, in spirit, they probably still are. They are decent people and the community and senior officials should trust that they have every intention of helping to ensure the continuity of the senior civil service. If they have anything to say to Mr Tung, it is more likely that it would be words of recommendation rather than criticisms based on some unfounded rumours or gossip. So if serving officers are genuinely concerned about the content of the discussions, it should not be their ex-colleagues' appraisal of their work. Instead, they should be more alert to what advice their former colleagues offered on the various policy areas. Before they left the Government, Mr Li, Mr Yeung, Mr Chan and Mr Liao were responsible for some of the most sensitive and important policy areas. These are among the priority issues which Mr Tung needs to look at when he assumes power. As Mr Tung has already started to meet one by one all the policy secretaries, his private sessions with the ex-officials should provide him with some useful background on a wide range of policy areas, thus making him better-prepared to ask the right questions and look for the right answers. Mr Tung should also be so well-briefed that he is ready to ask very difficult questions on tricky issues that the Government has resisted addressing. If this is indeed how Mr Tung makes use of the discussions he had with former officials, it should make the briefing sessions he had or will have with the incumbent officials more meaningful. This will be a real test for the senior officials. Anyone who can come through this process will indeed be worthy of holding a principal official post.