Hearings are becoming a smear campaign, says former education chief Fanny Law The inquiry into alleged government interference in the affairs of the Hong Kong Institute of Education had sent 'shivers down the spine' of civil servants who were often 'targets of attack' from sectoral interests, former permanent secretary for education and manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said yesterday. Mrs Law, who has rejected claims she put pressure on the institute's president, Paul Morris, to fire four academics for publicly criticising education policies, said the inquiry had turned into a smear campaign. Concluding her testimony yesterday, Mrs Law testified that the inquiry had wide ramifications for the future role of civil servants. 'I have received some representations of views from my colleagues that we may have to rethink the role of the civil service in the future under the accountability system,' said Mrs Law, commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. 'It appears that while we try to be neutral to protect the interests of the public as a whole, we often become targets of attack from sectoral interests. 'The discovery that this inquiry has made did send some shivers down [civil servants' spines].' The 'very big question mark', Mrs Law said, was whether civil servants should record in writing all future communications with people outside the government. She said it had become a joke among civil servants to ask, 'Is our conversation being recorded?' and 'Will our e-mails become the subject of an inquiry?' 'Do we really want our civil servants to be robots in the future, dealing with day-to-day work without any feeling?' she said, adding that she and Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung did not require their colleagues to record all their discussions. Professor Morris had provided the inquiry with a taped conversation of a phone call with Professor Li. The inquiry also heard conflicting accounts of conversations between Mrs Law and HKIEd staff. Mrs Law said the University Grants Committee should establish guidelines on academic freedom and that no freedom should be unrestrained. 'Academia is not simply a licence to promote parochial interests, but rather to serve the interests of the community,' she said. Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, for Professor Morris and vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay, asked Mrs Law about associate vice-president Phillip Moore's allegation that she slammed the door after a meeting. She admitted the meeting was not 'very cordial' but did not recall slamming the door. 'I really feel that this inquiry has become a smear campaign. I honestly don't recall myself having slammed the door.' Mrs Law acknowledged that she had phoned academics who wrote articles critical of government policies to try to convince them to present a more balanced view. Mr Lee argued that when Mrs Law called a writer directly, the writer might think that with such a high-ranking official calling them, they had better tone down their criticisms. But she said: 'It never crossed my mind that my telephone call would have that effect because usually I approach it in a very nice way. I don't criticise per se. So far I haven't had anybody [say] that my calls were threatening or ... not welcome.' Mrs Law said that before the inquiry she spoke to a number of academics she had previously phoned regarding their articles, and they told her they did not have a problem receiving her calls. Mr Lee said: 'What else did you expect them to tell you? 'No, you are wrong?'' Commission chairman Wally Yeung Chun-kuen said to Mrs Law: 'We have no doubt that you would be well-intentioned, but ... when you directly talk to someone who has criticised government policy it may have the effect of them thinking they should tone down [their criticism].'