The Customs and Excise Department is to be led by a civilian without experience of disciplined services. Director-General of the London Office John Tsang Chun-wah will succeed Lawrence Li Shu-fai as commissioner of the 5,000-strong force. Mr Tsang's appointment is the second recent case of an administrative officer parachuting into a top disciplined services post. In 1996, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee left her post as director-general of industry to head the Immigration Department. The post of Correctional Services Commissioner was given to former senior assistant commissioner of police Benny Ng Ching-kwok because there was no one suitable in the department. Mr Li yesterday admitted his successor was unfamiliar with the department's operations. 'I think the Government has fully considered the situation and I believe he is the right person,' he said. But he said his staff might have a 'different view' on Mr Tsang's appointment. 'The staff side has already expressed a wish for internal promotion . . . the staff will lose their chance of promotion. But I hope this will just be temporary,' he said. He denied the department had not planned a successor. 'We have always groomed our staff, but the timing just doesn't match,' he said. Mr Tsang, 47, former private secretary to the last Governor, Chris Patten, had to give up his US passport to fulfil the nationality requirement for the post under the Basic Law. He said he was not worried about staff relations. 'All Customs officers are very professional and I believe they would put work as the top priority. 'Staff relations will improve when there is more mutual understanding during the course of time.' Association of Customs and Excise Service Officers chairman Lam Ching-shek greeted the announcement with caution, saying other staff unions would soon discuss the appointment. Tung Chee-hwa and Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang expressed support for Mr Tsang. 'He is a veteran administrative officer with extensive experience in public administration, distinguished leadership and experience in handling Hong Kong's external commercial relations,' a government spokesman said. Deputy Secretary for Civil Service Sandra Lee Shuk-yee said the policy had always been to appoint the best candidate. Ms Lee, 46, is being promoted to succeed Mr Tsang as Director-General of the London Office in March.