My Take

A pay rise for top officials? Talk about money for old rope

Only one or two would actually deserve the planned 12 per cent pay rise. Half would be lucky to keep their jobs and three or four should have been sacked

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 5:54am

When bureaucracy leads, smart politics takes a back seat.

That may be why the government chooses at this most sensitive time to announce a salary adjustment study that recommends a whopping pay rise of 12.4 per cent for its top officials.

Bear in mind these guys already average a take-home pay of a quarter of a million dollars a month, not counting perks and benefits.

Top Hong Kong officials in line for 12.4pc pay rise

This government cannot get any more unpopular. Does it not have enough controversy and crisis to deal with already?

Most of the principal officials won’t be around after next summer with a new administration to enjoy the benefits.

So the smart thing to do is just to shelve the study. That won’t incur any goodwill from the public, but at least it won’t provoke more ill will.

Granted, bureau secretaries haven’t had a pay rise since 2002, and they took a pay cut of more than 5 per cent in 2009. And no pay rise for these guys will ever be popular, so there is never a good time.

Still, using the current crop of officials as poster boys and girls for getting a pay rise is just not a good idea.

The government loves to compare pay levels with the private sector.

But in the real world, probably only one or two of the top officials would deserve a pay rise.

Half would be lucky to keep their jobs and three or four should have been sacked.

The “I hate the government” kind of judgment can be subjective. So let’s use the latest approval ratings of principal officials – polled by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme – as a proxy for their job performance.

The remaking of financial chief John Tsang into ‘local Hong Kong boy’

Only finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah (51 per cent) and Food and Health Secretary Ko Wing-man (73 per cent) score above 50 per cent in terms of the net approval rate, that is, the approval minus disapproval rates.

Most others, including Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, are just mediocre.

But four – Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung in innovation and technology, Lau Kong-wah in home affairs, Paul Chan Mo-po in housing, and Eddie Ng Hak-kim in education – are rated negative.

Arguably, these not-so-fantastic four would have been sacked in the real world.

As I say, forget about the pay rise.