Grooming for '97 posts

Fanny Wong

BRIGHT young locals are being rushed up the senior ranks of the Government to form the basis of a post-1997 administration, despite the danger they may be rejected by China.

The accelerated promotion of Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Peter Lai Hing-ling, Deputy Secretary for the Treasury Kwong Ki-chi and Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Lam Woon-kwong is aimed at preparing them to be principal officials in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government.

Mapping out the leadership is understood to be a top priority for Governor Chris Patten, who is working closely with Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Secretary for the Civil Service Michael Sze Cho-cheung.

At least nine of the 22 principal official posts taken by expatriate officers will have to be filled by locals within the next two years. That is necessary to fulfil the Basic Law's nationality requirement that all principal officials should be Chinese with no right of abode in any foreign country.

More than a dozen candidates have been identified and the change of guard will begin in the summer.

The shuffle will be triggered by the departure of Secretary for Health and Welfare Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien, who reaches the retirement age of 57 applying to officers on expatriate terms.

It is expected Director of Education Dominic Wong Shing-wah will succeed Mrs Wong.

Another candidate is said to be Commissioner for Labour Katherine Fok Lo Shiu-ching, but Mr Wong is thought to have the edge.

Mr Lai, promoted only in January from the D4 rank on the directorate pay scale to the D6 grade of heads of department, is said to be a leading contender to take over from Mr Wong as the education chief, a D7 grade.

Mr Lam and Mr Kwong, both D4, are expected to jump to D6 at the end of the year to prepare for their further elevation as policy secretaries.

The anticipated promotion at the end of the year for Mr Kwong and Mr Lam will be their second in two years. Elevation to policy secretary posts in early 1996 will make them the most rapidly-promoted staff in the civil service.

Mr Lai, Mr Kwong, Mr Lam and Director-General of Industry Denise Yue Chung-yee are all in their early 40s and highly regarded by the top administration for their ability and performance.

They are apparently destined to take the most important portfolios of finance, trade and security.

Mr Patten is understood to want policy secretaries who meet the Basic Law nationality requirement in place by early 1996 at the latest, thereby enabling them to fully prepare for the challenges of the sovereignty change.

Although Beijing has said it will compile its own list of post-1997 principal officials without consulting Britain, the Government is understood to be following the policy that the best qualified officers be found for the strategic positions.