Motion on “Reviewing and Reorganizing the Government Structure” (2017.03.02)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, the governance of the SAR Government has not been quite so smooth since its establishment. It has faced obstacles in its every step of policy implementation and even committed many blunders. I believe this is due to various reasons. Apart from incessant social disputes over policy implementation, certain deep-seated conflicts in the government structure are also one reason. The theme of the motion debate today is urging the Government to reorganize its structure. I think that if we fail to squarely address such deep-seated conflicts, any structural reorganization at the level of Department Secretaries and Bureau Directors alone can merely tackle the surface problems and is unable to resolve the problems at root. In fact, over all these years, the Government has introduced reform to reorganize its structure. And the most drastic reorganization measure is the accountability system for principal officials introduced by former Chief Executive TUNG Chee-hwa. At the time, it did solve some problems, but it failed to tackle the crux of all problems. Therefore, new problems keep arising.

Speaking of the deep-seated conflicts in the government structure, I think conflicts of various sizes are bound to exist in such a huge organization with 180 000 employees. The study on this can be left to experts. I want to talk about a problem which is noticeable even to those outside the Government like us: the relationship between accountability officials and civil servants. First, I must make it a point to say that I believe Hong Kong civil servants are clean, law-abiding, highly efficient and dutiful. What I am about to say targets at the problems within the structure rather than any individuals.

Under Hong Kong’s existing system, Department Secretaries and Bureau Directors are decision-makers. But during every Chief Executive changeover, they may be replaced by somebody else. Civil servants as policy executors are rather the very ones who stay in the structure for prolonged periods. This explains why the civil service has huge bearing on policy implementation. Hong Kong is practically administered by civil servants. When problems with policy implementation arise, the Department Secretaries and Bureau Directors involved must certainly be held responsible. But actually, the civil servants in charge should likewise bear responsibility, except in cases where the Bureau Directors concerned are really so obstinate and self-opinionated to pay heed to civil servants’ views whatsoever.

The conflict at stake is this. Accountability officials are decision-makers. But due to their fixed tenure, they only have a limited grasp of various matters. In contrast, while civil servants are mere executors, they enjoy continuity owing to their prolonged stay in their respective departments. Besides having a good grasp of internal matters, they are familiar with personnel dealings and are rested with the actual power as executors. Simply put, even though accountability officials have the duty and power, they must still rely and count on civil servants in actual policy implementation. In case of discord or disharmony between both sides, the smooth implementation of a comprehensive policy can hardly be possible without the whole-hearted support of civil servants and their execution.

My speech up to this point may lead Members to conjure up a popular television drama called Yes Minister produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation in Britain. A satirical sitcom, it portrays how the main protagonist manages his department during his time as a minister. A large part of this television drama is devoted to depicting the conflicts between the minister and his British civil servants. The minister has big plans in mind, but his civil servants nonetheless consider his plans to be impractical. They even think that they will not make any mistakes if they do not do anything. So, they give mere verbal support, but behind his back, they adopt various administrative and clerical means in an attempt to delay or stall his plans, or to bring them to a quiet end. Another way is the creation of many new structures to bypass the minister. Though apparently moronic, the minister can always come up with some ruses to counter his civil servants. This sitcom is a satire on Britain’s political arena at the time. Amusing as it is, the storyline is based on actual circumstances in the Government at the time with a high degree of realism. Therefore, it has received a great deal of attention from the political sector. As said, it was a compulsory teaching material for senior civil servants in the British Hong Kong era.

Today, I do not intend to criticize our civil servants. I merely want to point out that the present system may easily lead to adversary or discord between accountability officials and civil servants. This is a conflict resulting from the system. Civil servants will not disobey the decisions of accountability officials. But if a policy fails to command the whole-hearted support of civil servants, it can be certain to say that the eventual implementation of the policy will be greatly hindered. For this reason, this present system of Hong Kong must be put to the test and refined constantly before an appropriate structure can be developed. But I think this assimilation process will take quite some time.

As everybody knows, the Chief Executive Election has now formally commenced, and a new Chief Executive will be returned very soon. I believe there is much we can do to achieve smoother policy implementation. The first point concerns the appointment of new Bureau Directors. Apart from personal competencies and experience, the ability to unite civil servants must be another consideration. In the previous appointments of Bureau Directors, it looked like this ability was not included as a necessary requirement. But as I have just said, Bureau Directors must possess this ability. These days, Bureau Directors are no longer technocrats as such. They must also equip themselves with political finesses. Being able to unite people’s hearts is one of the important skills.

Second, the Government should realize that with increasing openness of society, it will only face greater and greater governance resistance, and its policy implementation will no longer be as smooth as before. Apart from keeping its previous practice of conducting consultation, the Government must also understand the wisdom of “haste makes waste”. The Government must be thorough in its work, and even have more than one string to its bow when formulating policies. The reason why I say so is that a policy without many queries from people or major problems during consultation may come under Members’ challenge at the time of voting in the Legislative Council. If the Government fails to have more than one string to its bow, its policies may be easily turned down at this very last stage.

Third, the Government must strive to rectify the executive-legislature relationship. Due to its appalling relationship with the opposition camp these days, the Government faces tremendous resistance in seeking our approval for its bills and appropriation requests. I need not talk too much about this. I hope the new Government can find ways to improve the relationship as much as possible. Fourth, Members can criticize the Government for its poor performance. But have Members done any self-reflection? Are Members’ performance satisfactory? I hope Legislative Council Members can understand that politics is an art of compromise. We are serving the community, and Members’ persistent adamance about their own views will do no good to society. I hope that if the new Government is willing to mend its relationship with Members, Members can give serious thoughts to this.

I so submit.

Scroll to Top