How Hong Kong’s next chief executive can show he means business with ‘result-oriented’ reform
- The annual policy address should include concrete targets instead of pledges to review systems and formulate proposals, while senior civil service officers’ pay could be linked to performance
- Key performance indicators for the civil service must convey an immediate sense of gain to the people to be meaningful and spur substantive action
Since Hong Kong’s first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa introduced the Principal Officials Accountability System in 2002, successive chief executives have tried their hand at enacting new measures to enhance public governance.
It is perhaps not fair to say that the terms of previous chief executives were not “result-oriented” as policy addresses have been awash with pledges and targets in various policy areas. By the end of the period covered in the policy address, the chief executive takes stock of these targets and, lo and behold, few of them are unmet.
In theory, the people of Hong Kong should have cause to rejoice, but we know this is rarely the case. The policy address is a product of collective work within the government through a largely bottom-up process. Very few officials would propose to their political masters targets that they are reluctant to or cannot achieve.
As a result, policy addresses are normally long on pledges to review existing systems, formulate proposals to tackle long-standing problems, expedite ongoing projects and the like, but they are short on any guarantee or measure of customer satisfaction.
If the incoming government is serious about being result-oriented, it should make a pledge to reduce the waiting time for a public housing unit to three years by the end of its term since this is the result that really matters to the average person and is a metric that they can readily understand. Also, how about a pledge to reduce the proportion of household income that the average family spends on their mortgage, which is among the highest in the world?
It involves enhancing multiple tasks relating to town planning, site identification, transport and infrastructure planning, provision of amenities and social services, and building work. Such a KPI should cascade down the bureaucracy and be reflected in the indicators for senior officers in all the departments and bureaus concerned.
A certain percentage of the annual pay for officers involved in a KPI should be set aside, payable only if the targets or related milestones are met, plus perhaps a bonus for outstanding performance. This concept of performance-linked pay, though widely practised in the private sector, is seen by some as a heresy to the civil service.
To allay any possible concerns of civil service labour unions, it should only apply to political appointees and directorate officers. The portion of their pay that is linked to their performance should be a modest one, perhaps starting with the annual civil service pay adjustment while leaving their basic salary intact. This is a bold move, but it is just a small step that the new chief executive should take if senior civil servants who enjoy the highest level of job security are to be motivated to deliver the results he wants.
Raymond Young Lap-moon was permanent secretary for home affairs from 2010 to 2014