Imagine, if you can, the chief executive of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank making a speech about corporate policy and a new landmark building. As he is in the middle of his address, up jumps the chairman of the venerable financial institution and rudely interrupts, telling him he is wrong and does not know what he is talking about. Hong Kong reels. Can you visualise such a bizarre scenario? Of course not. It is impossible. It breaks every single rule of management, good business housekeeping, common sense and common good manners. In any well-run organisation, such a highly visible public brawl would be unthinkable. Such childish tantrums, however, are the very staff of life in the Provisional Urban Council. This sorry body of would-be political overlords is the raw material of managerial buffoonery. It is my belief that the council could not competently organise a children's picnic. The skit outlined above is roughly what happened when the chairman of the Urban Council, the amazing Dr Ronald Leung Ding-bong, erupted on to the airways as the Director of Urban Services, Elaine Chung Lai-kwok, was talking about the proposed new Central Library. She was answering questions on RTHK radio in response to public criticism. In an astonishing performance, even by his own established standards, Dr Leung ranted on the air, a chorus he unwisely later repeated in the council chamber. The council, to its shame, later censured the public servant who is its chief executive officer. Ms Chung is no wilting wallflower who takes such treatment mildly. She is not one to sit back and accept a sharp rap over the knuckles administered by her political masters. She is as tough as a Shang dynasty bronze battle axe, and she came back fighting; she had a clear statutory responsibility to act as she had done, she maintained, and would continue to carry out her role as she saw right and proper. Good for her. The original cause of the dispute was the council's warped decision to proceed with the construction of a hideously unimaginative library. The cause of the row is now half-forgotten. What is of current and future importance is the working relations within one of the most vital sectors of the entire Hong Kong community. How on Earth can we now expect the civil servants of the Urban Services Department to work in effective harmony with the politicians on the council? We have been hearing for a decade how vital it is for the new administration to bolster and soothe the feelings of the public service, on which we are told our future well-being and welfare depend. Then we have the most demeaning public humbling of a very senior civil servant. This has not been done, please note, by any vestige of the 'new' SAR Government, but by a relic of the old regime. Dr Leung has been kept in place as head of the Provisional Urban Council where he is likely to remain for a further two years. Woe is us. The situation is a managerial nightmare. I asked a score of institutions ranging from the Jockey Club to major corporations how they would handle such a scenario. They universally dived for cover; wise fellows. I queried university professors of administration and three leading firms of management consultants, asking if they could ever recall such a predicament. They shook their heads in wonder. Only in the realms of the Urban Council, it seems, or in the Court of the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, could such unsatisfactory circumstances arise. Ms Chung is a staff grade B1 administrative officer. As such, she is one of the top-ranking score or so officers in the civil service. She heads the biggest civilian department that carries out many of the less tasteful, but most essential, services in the community. With an annual budget nudging $8 billion, the 16,000 Urban Services staff clean our streets and license our restaurants, they run swimming pools, playing fields and markets. Yet the head of this substantial organisation is publicly dressed down like a wayward schoolgirl, humbled, scolded and berated not only by Dr Leung but also by some of his cohorts picking up their $47,260 monthly allowances to polish the seats of the Urban Council chamber. Where is the civil service to find comfort or relief in this situation? If a mighty head of a major government department is expected to put up with this sort of treatment, how do more humble public servants get treated by their political masters? There has been a strange silence, a muted hush. Why have our vocal politicians not been up in arms? Even the Senior Non-Expatriate Civil Servants' Association has not spoken out forcefully in defence of staff receiving such brusque treatment. The Acting Secretary for the Civil Service, Sandra Lee Suk-yee, believes the situation is 'more or less' resolved. This seems a sanguine view. Can deep scars of such a brawl be so easily healed? 'These days, civil servants can't avoid being involved in debates,' she said. 'I hope from now on things can go back to normal.' So do we all. But is that a realistic belief? The vice-chairman of the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers' Association, Dr Leung Chi-chiu, leaps out of the fray by saying it cannot comment on individual cases. Why on Earth not? How would you like this fellow defending your rights? 'All civil servants should be properly treated so they can do their jobs effectively,' he says. 'I don't think a single incident will bear much weight on an individual's appraisal or career prospects.' How's that for weakness? Not that the formidable Elaine Chung needs anyone else to fight her battles. But can she retain her job in such circumstances? Would she want to? Under the normal course of the ebb and flow of senior civil service appointments, she would normally remain as director of urban services for another couple of years. It seems difficult to imagine two such strong characters continuing to work together after such a public row. The political policy-maker, Dr Leung, obviously has little faith in Ms Chung. And it seems impossible that a respected professional administrative officer could continue to loyally and effectively serve under such circumstances. However, it appears Ms Chung is determined to soldier on, to stay at her post and continue to do her duty. She has more grit and devotion than I.