Professionals fume at the practice of administrative officers heading departments Senior civil servants from professional grades have called for a review of what they say is an outdated colonial practice in which administrative officers form the backbone of the civil service. They say the long-standing practice of posting administrative officers, or AOs, to head professional departments and bureaus should stop as the colonial approach of running the government no longer meets the needs of a knowledge-based society. The Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association, formerly known as the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers Association, said colleagues from professional grades could lead departments equally well. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the association's new chairman, Peter Chan Pak-fong, said the 'generalist' approach inherited from the colonial era no longer suited the needs of a knowledge-based society. 'We should not allow laymen to lead experts,'' said Mr Chan, a senior engineer with the Water Supplies Department. At present the 570-strong administrative officer grade forms the core of the administration. With monthly salaries ranging from $28,075 to $181,700, they comprise the civil service elite and hold senior positions in policy bureaus or departments. While administrative officers typically rise to directorate rank in 11 years, professional grade officers have to wait much longer to move up the hierarchy. About 275 of the 570 administrative officer posts are directorate ranks. The association denied it wanted to give professionals better promotion prospects, but said governments around the world also allowed more specialists to take up key positions. Leung Chi-chiu, a past chairman of the association, said: 'We could spend a long time on advice from an expert when the pace of life was not so fast. 'But society is rapidly changing and information keeps flooding in these days. Say, in the fight against an epidemic, if you cannot effectively handle the situation or make a wrong decision, many problems will arise.' Dr Leung believed the administrative officer system could be reformed in the context of constitutional development. 'With the emergence of the ministerial system, the system of generalists will have to change eventually, but in what direction will depend on social development.' He stopped short of calling for an end to the administrative officer system, but said professionals should be given more chances. 'We can't expect a generalist to solve all the problems. Alternatively, a specialist cannot do that either. I think we gradually need cross-fertilisation of the two streams.' Echoing the call, Poon Wai-ming, senior vice-chairman, said many central government leaders were also specialist professionals. 'The administrative officer system is a vestige of colonial rule. Our national leaders also have professional backgrounds. Many chief executive officers of multinational corporations are also engineers or specialists,'' he said. James Sung Lap-kung, senior lecturer at City University's School of Continuing and Professional Education, said: 'There ought to be a balance between generalists and specialists. It should be an organic integration of the two systems.'