CIVIL SERVANTS ARE NOT normally people with whom you associate that estimable quality of initiative and it has now become increasingly unlikely in this town that you will ever have the opportunity of doing so. InvestHK chief Mike Rowse made the mistake of showing initiative following the end of the Sars epidemic in 2003 and for his efforts he has now been reprimanded and faces a fine of one month's salary. His appeal against this ruling has been dismissed. What this does is send three simple messages to the civil service: (1) Listen, you minions. If any one of you ever again tries to use any of those little grey cells in his or her skull to do anything more than check whether the right tick marks have been made in the right boxes on the right coloured forms, he or she is toast! (2) If any of you happen to think that the Chief Executive stands behind you on a difficult decision, think again. He didn't have the courage to back up one of his most longstanding and closest associates against a bully gang-up by senior bureaucrats who would never show their faces. It was all turned over to the chief hatchet man. The boss washed his hands of it. (3) To those of you who organised the gang-up, well done, fellas, keep it up! Bauhinias are on their way for all of you. You have once again demonstrated how well you understand that all-important principle that the interests of the civil service come before the interests of the public. Mr Rowse's offence was that he worked too quickly in mid-2003 to organise Harbourfest, a series of public concerts by internationally famous performers, which he was asked to put together in conjunction with the American Chamber of Commerce as a gesture to the world that Hong Kong had recovered from its Sars setback. It was absolutely necessary that it be done quickly. The longer that those concerts followed the end of the epidemic the less effective they would be in getting the message across. In the event it was all done very quickly. Harbourfest was staged at the beginning of November that year. But this meant that some corners had to be cut. Mr Rowse, for instance, gave approval over the phone for issuing some cheques when his travel schedule as head of InvestHK took him abroad. He also did not have the full system of cost and performance controls and did not consult the Department of Justice on some memorandums of understanding he signed. How the Department of Justice should have come into it is anyone's guess but in fact the whole of the civil service establishment was up in arms. Mr Rowse had done what none of them could do - take on a big rush job and do it in rush time, as required. Imagine, for instance, where the Harbourfest schedule would stand now if the job of organising it had been given to that archetypal paperwork machine, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The venue might have been picked by now but the date for the show would still be under discussion. More disconcerting yet, imagine that Mr Rowse's way of doing things were taken as an example for the entire civil service. Just think, horror of horrors, what the calamitous result to established practices would be if efficiency, timeliness and other such ruinous innovations were introduced to public administration. So the bureaucrats organised their gang-up on Mr Rowse and their gang-up succeeded. Their hearings were held (he was not allowed legal representation) and he was found to have breached rules and regulations. He should by rights have had the financial secretary at the time, Antony Leung Kam-chung, stand up for him. Mr Leung was the most noteworthy senior official publicly linked with official approval of Harbourfest. Mr Leung, however, lost his job shortly afterwards and may not in any case have been officially responsible for Harbourfest, in which case responsibility would have rested with the chief secretary at the time, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. As Chief Executive now, Mr Tsang could have put an instant end to the gang-up when Mr Rowse appealed to him. Instead he let Mr Rowse down. He turned the appeal over to the present chief secretary, Rafael Hui Si-yin, whose loyalty to the civil service borders on veneration. The outcome, as Mr Tsang could have known, was inevitable, appeal dismissed. But Mr Rowse still has the route of a judicial review open to him and I am glad to see him take that route. He has been treated unfairly throughout for doing no more than he was asked to do and was betrayed by people who should have supported him. Of more general importance, if this misconduct ruling is not overturned, we will have taken an enormous step backwards in the standards of intelligent conduct we can expect from our civil service. Let's hope our judiciary can remedy this.