It sends a bad signal, says an academic who blames the ministerial system More than two dozen senior civil servants have sought voluntary retirement - a development one academic called a 'bad signal'. The Civil Service Bureau yesterday revealed that 29 directorate-grade officials had applied, and all but six had been allowed to retire early. This is the first year that the 1,277 directorate-grade staff have been eligible for voluntary retirement under a scheme designed to help reduce civil service staffing by 10,000, to 160,000, within three years. Successful applicants will be awarded one month's pay for every two years of service. Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, Professor of Public and Social Administration at City University, said senior officials he had spoken to had told him of their grievances with the government. He said: 'The figure is relatively high. The outcome is a bad signal to the government.'' Professor Cheung said many senior staff were unclear about their roles after the ministerial, or 'accountability', system was introduced last July under which political appointees replaced top civil servants as the heads of policymaking bureaus. 'I think many of them felt they had been sidelined. In the past they were the ones who called the shots,' he said. 'Although the accountability system is supposed to divert the political pressure to the ministers, many senior staff still find themselves bearing the brunt of public criticism.' Cost-cutting and the management problems arising from the scrapping of posts had made their jobs more difficult. Pang Tat-choi, who chairs the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers Association, said he was not aware senior staff were particularly upset by the current situation. About 7,000 staff are expected to take advantage of the second phase of the civil service voluntary retirement scheme, launched in March. Compensating them will cost $2.1 billion, and savings of $2.4 billion a year will be achieved. The largest number of applications for early retirement have come from clerical officers and assistants, hawker control officers, health inspectors, labourers and nurses. Of 5,961 applicants, 574 have been ruled ineligible, 57 rejected for operational reasons, 40 held in abeyance and 5,290 approved, the bureau said. Cecilia So Chui-kuen, president of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants Association, said she hoped all applicants would be allowed to go. 'Since they are no longer willing to stay, keeping them will only undermine staff morale,' she said.