Motion on “Improving the Employment Terms of Civil Servants, Enhancing the Efficiency of Policy Implementation and Promoting Creativity and Innovation” (2019.06.05)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Civil servants in Hong Kong are vested with the important duty of managing Hong Kong. Their performance, whether good or bad, has a direct bearing on Hong Kong’s social development, and this will in turn affect people’s life.

Since the reunification, the civil service has basically maintained its merits of probity and diligence. But owing to drastic social changes in recent years, such as the increasing politicization of society, rapid social changes resulting from technological advancement, constant changes in the financial market, and also the emergence of political conflicts in the global arena, the Government has faced more and more difficulties in its governance. I believe that civil servants must strive to improve themselves and comprehensively upgrade their skills, efficiency and vision, so as to cope with various challenges in the days ahead. Today, we must thank Mr Tony TSE for proposing this motion as it has given us an opportunity to explore this issue.

Part one of the original motion proposes that the Government should “improve the employment terms, manpower, working environment and continuing education and training of civil servants”. I agree that civil servants have come under immense pressure these days. One example is political pressure, meaning the issue of “hot kitchen” we have been talking about. Besides, as the peak of civil service retirement is fast approaching, the pressure of manpower shortage has become inevitable. For these reasons, I agree that the Government should improve the manpower establishment, working environment and training of civil servants, so that they can equip themselves with better skills to bring their strengths into play in a better environment. But speaking of their employment terms, I must say that the present remunerations and fringe benefits of civil servants are already way better than those for employees of private enterprises. University students already regard civil service jobs as “gold rice bowls”, and every government recruitment exercise will invariably draw large amounts of job applicants. So, I do not see any need for increasing their remunerations and fringe benefits at present. Instead, I opine that the Government should actively study the idea of pegging their remunerations and fringe benefits to their performance, so as to avoid the situation where one will still get paid regardless of whether one does the work or not.

Part two of the original motion urges the Government to improve the efficiency of policy implementation and promote creativity and innovation among civil servants. I believe this is rather the main point. The systemic and procedural constraints on civil servants have led to protracted work progress. Amidst exorbitant property prices in Hong Kong, the community hopes to see expeditious housing construction on lands sold by the Government. But speaking of housing development, property developers must submit separate applications to the Planning Department, the Buildings Department and the Lands Department. Due to the cumbersome statutory and administrative procedures, the rigid adherence to policies and even the overlapping of portfolios among the three departments, the approval and review process not only has failed to speed up works progress but has also slowed it down instead. As estimated by some in the industry, a period of seven or eight years is now required for construction and development, as opposed to the span of only three or four years in the past.

Such rigid adherence to procedures not only exists in departments tasked with planning- and land-related matters but also prevails in various government departments at large. Members all appreciate that civil servants must follow procedures. But civil servants (especially senior civil servants) have simply forgotten that they are the very ones who are most clear about how to change those rules and procedures laid down many years ago. Even in the case of legislative amendments, they must be put forth by the Government before the Legislative Council can conduct the vetting and approval process. So, the responsibility forever rests with the Government. Civil servants in the Government (especially high-ranking civil servants) earn a handsome salary in their respective positions. I hope they can realize that they are duty-bound to improve the Government’s efficiency.

In fact, the Chief Executive has also fully realized the crux of all problems, so she stated categorically in her election manifesto that the Government must constantly review its structure and operation mode, so as to improve its efficiency of policy implementation and reduce the work pressure on civil servants. In reply to my question in this Council, the Chief Executive likewise pointed out that the procedure for approving land use applications would be streamlined as a means to expedite the progress of housing development through reclamation. At the same time, some new services introduced by the Government have yielded very desirable effects, and this is probably a result of the introduction of new technologies and the adoption of a new management mindset. In the case of the current smart identity card replacement exercise, for example, the process is simple and convenient. I believe people will be satisfied with it. But I think the Government should drastically streamline the work flows in various departments, so as to enhance efficiency.

In Hong Kong, there are over 170 000 civil servants. Most of them have served the Hong Kong public very dutifully and diligently. But as the saying goes, there are bound to be black sheep in every flock. From time to time, we can learn or hear from media reports how some civil servants have slacked off. We can also hear criticisms against certain undesirable practices among civil servants, such as their mindset of “inaction brings no mistakes” and their liking for avoiding responsibilities.

Some academics and former senior officials have invariably pointed out that this is caused by various factors. But one of the major factors is that the remunerations of ordinary civil servants in general are basically pegged to the posts they hold instead of their work performance. The commercial sector emphasizes “more pain, more gain” and meritocracy, and remunerations are pegged to work performance without any exception. But speaking of government organizations, civil servants will not necessarily get more even if they do more. Instead, they may worry that if they do more, they may make more mistakes. This explains why they think that as long as they go by the book and do not commit any major errors, they can keep their job until retirement. Actually, the Chief Executive started out as a civil servant, so she certainly understands this problem better than we do. And, I also believe that she has the intention to change this situation. Nevertheless, as the civil service is so gigantic, changes can be achieved only very gradually. But the most important of all is that she must proceed with this task more expeditiously.

President, Hong Kong’s competitiveness has kept declining. These days, it is even facing the risk of a trade war, and its way ahead is full of challenges. How to improve the Government’s outdated rules and procedures is already a question that must be addressed without any delay. I so submit.

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