Revamped think tank will drive policy innovation in Hong Kong
Carrie Lam outlines her plan to turn the Central Policy Unit into an outfit that coordinates efforts across different bureaus to serve a common goal – how to steer Hong Kong towards greater growth and development
Following the announcement in my policy address on October 11 of a new initiative to revamp the Central Policy Unit and turn it into a Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, the government placed adverts on October 27 to invite individuals aspiring to pursue a career in public policy to apply for jobs in the new office.
This initiative originated from a proposal in my election manifesto to provide more opportunities for young people from different backgrounds who are interested in policy research and project coordination to participate in politics. While recent public discussions seemed to focus on the participation of young people in politics, I would like to elaborate on the idea of revamping the Central Policy Unit. The unit was formally set up in April 1989 to provide the then government with a broader and longer-term perspective on major policy issues, including alternative thinking within the government. The aim was to ensure that the most senior echelon in the government would have the most comprehensive advice at hand when they made important policy decisions.
The focus and priorities of the unit’s work have evolved over the past 30 years or so, to take account of the changing social and economic needs in society and the preference of the senior government leadership (the governor before Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, and the chief executive thereafter). The head of the unit is a position ranked at directorate pay scale point 8, and has been filled by a civil servant or a non-civil-servant at different times. The personal work styles of the different heads might also have a bearing on the characteristics of the unit.
My proposal to reorganise the unit is an integral part of this government’s commitment to innovation and action. As a chief executive determined to lead Hong Kong to new heights, I am keenly aware of the immense responsibilities on my shoulders. I also appreciate that we must be forward-looking and maintain a strategic perspective in our governance. With 37 years of experience in public service, I recognise the difficulties we may encounter when introducing new ways of thinking into the government system, and the importance of having the right support in our search for breakthroughs and in coordinating efforts to achieve change.
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The Central Policy Unit does not come under any policy bureau and reports directly to the chief executive. With appropriate reorganisation, it is best placed to take up this role. Moreover, with an annual funding of close to HK$120 million (including HK$30 million for public policy research), the unit should be able to make a more visible impact.
I will take the opportunity to bring in younger members to the team so the views and suggestions of young people could be taken into consideration at an early stage of policy formulation. This would also allow young people to gain a deeper understanding of public policies as well as practical experience in their formulation.
The new Policy Innovation and Coordination Office will provide support to senior government leadership in these key functions:
● Providing secretariat support to the Chief Executive’s Council of Advisers on Innovation and Strategic Development, a new high-level strategic forum which comprises leaders from different sectors, and which I will chair. The council will focus on the strategic positioning of Hong Kong in the global economy and guide Hong Kong’s future innovation and changes, so as to maintain our global competitiveness and enhance our alignment with the development of our country. The new office will also carry out evidence-based policy research under the steer of the council.
● Coordinating major cross-bureau policies selected by the chief executive and department secretaries. The new office will help the government achieve its policy objectives by coordinating cross-bureau efforts in identifying and implementing solutions. This may include reviews of existing legislation and the opening up of government data to support innovative developments in Hong Kong.
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● Providing “first-stop” and “one-stop” services for innovative development projects. The new office will coordinate the evaluation of project proposals and their benefits to the community and provide consultation so that Hong Kong may seize opportunities in a timely manner.
● Administering two public policy research funding schemes. We will continue to provide funding support, on the advice of the assessment panel led by professors Joseph Lee and Daniel Shek, to universities and research institutes to carry out public policy research. We will also continue to explore ways to further enhance the effectiveness and impact of the research funding schemes.
● Promoting evidence-based policy research. Apart from conducting its own research, the new office will foster a closer network to encourage policy discussions with local and external academia and think tanks so as to raise the standard of policy research in Hong Kong.
● Providing more opportunities for the direct participation of young people in public policy formulation. We aim to recruit 20 to 30 young people to join the new office on a non-civil-service contract basis. Apart from taking part in policy research and public engagement work, they will also have opportunities to interact and exchange views with the chief executive and politically appointed officials.
I have high hopes that the new Policy Innovation and Coordination Office will be an action-oriented team which is energetic, inclusive of different opinions and capable of thinking out of the box.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region