LegCo Paper No. CB(2)1955/95-96
(The minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/PS

LegCo Panel on Public Service

Minutes of Special Meeting held on Thursday, 11 July 1996 at 2:00 p.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

    Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
    Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung

Non-Panel Members Present :

    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
    Hon James TO Kun-sun

Members Absent :

    Hon Allen LEE Peng-fei, CBE, JP *
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka *
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong *
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan *
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan *
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong *
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin *
    Hon LO Suk-ching *
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP *

Public Officers Attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service
Ms Sandra LEE
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 1
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 2
Mrs Kathryn WONG
Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service Appointment)
Ms Ingrid HO
Deputy Secretary for Security (Acting)

Staff in Attendance :

    Mrs Sharon TONG Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1
    Mr Paul WOO Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I. Meeting with the Administration

The Chairman remarked that this special meeting was intended to look into the issues relating to the retirement of Mr LEUNG Ming-yin, former Director of Immigration, who had proceeded on pre-retirement leave immediately after the announcement of his retirement by the government on 6 July 1996. He said that the case had aroused tremendous public concern and Members had found it necessary to seek a satisfactory explanation from the Administration on the circumstances leading to the case. On a wider issue, the Administration should also clarify how cases involving applications of directorate officers for a waiver of the prescribed notice period upon retirement had been handled.

2. Mr LEE Kai-ming stated that according to Mr LEUNG Ming-yin, his retirement was due to health reasons. Mr LEE queried whether the grounds had been sufficient to justify an immediate departure. Mr W K LAM advised that two basic principles were involved in dealing with civil service retirement cases, firstly, the right of an eligible officer to retire and, secondly, the authority of the Administration to exercise a discretion to waive the prescribed notice period in justifiable circumstances. An officer who had reached retirement age was not required to seek approval of his retirement, provided a prescribed advance notice had been given. Civil Service Regulation 327(5) set out the various periods of notice which applied to officers of different grades and ranks. The Administration, however, could at its discretion, waive, or shorten, the required notice periods in exceptional circumstances where it was in the public interest and there were adequate compassionate or personal grounds. The authority to approve a waiver in respect of non-directorate officers had been delegated to Heads of Department or Grades. In the case of directorate officers, the approving authority was the Secretary of the Civil Service. The grounds for a waiver varied in individual cases. The most common of them had been listed in paragraph four of the paper “Notice to Retire from the Civil Service” which had been tabled at the meeting. (Post-meeting note: the paper has been circulated to members vide LP CB(2) 1859/95-96). Since 1 April 1994 up to date, there had been 30 cases where a waiver had been granted in respect of directorate officers. Mr LAM informed that, as far as Mr LEUNG’s case was concerned, there had been no question about the right of Mr LEUNG to retire, since he had reached the age of 55 after serving in the civil service for 31 years. As to the government’s decision in this case to waive the required 12-month notice of retirement, Mr LAM said that Mr LEUNG had applied for a waiver to be granted for personal reasons. The application had been subsequently approved, having taken into full account the merits of the case. He maintained that he could not divulge details of the grounds under which the waiver had been granted because of the need to safeguard the confidentiality of personal information of civil servants.

3. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong stated that public concern in this particular case was whether there was a cover-up of an issue which involved public interest. He asked whether Mr LAM himself, or any other senior government officer, had discussed with Mr LEUNG about his retirement matters, and on which occasion requested Mr LEUNG to retire from service, or indicated or suggested that he should do so, before Mr LEUNG submitted a notice to retire. Mr CHEUNG asked for the date of that discussion if it had ever taken place. He stressed that this act on the part of the government, if it had been committed, would affect the credibility of the government and therefore the public should have a right to know. His query was echoed by Dr CHEUNG Bing-leung, Mrs Selina CHOW and Mr James TO.

4. Mr W K LAM responded that being the person in charge of the personal management matters of the civil service, he had spent most of his time meeting with Heads of Departments and senior officers from over 70 departments to discuss important issues affecting the work of their departments, among which the retirements of senior staff and the associated problems of succession were major issues of discussion. The purpose of these meetings was to constantly review the retirement situation of individual departments in order to maintain a stable civil service. He said that the last meeting on the subject in respect of the Immigration Department took place about one to two months ago. Referring to Mr LEUNG’s case, Mr LAM said that his notification to retire was received by the Administration last week. Mr LAM reiterated that Mr LEUNG had a right to retire and he had chosen to retire on his own will. The Administration had no power to ask for his retirement, or to approve or disapprove of his retirement. The Administration only had the authority to waive or shorten a notice period, which was exercised having regard to Mr LEUNG’s personal reasons for retirement and also for the reason that the granting of a waiver would not be at the expense of public interest. Mr LAM asserted that it depended on Mr LEUNG himself whether to reveal more details concerning the reasons for his retirement, rather than the Administration which had an obligation to upkeep the confidentiality of personal information.

5. Mrs Selina CHOW held that Mr LAM’s refusal to disclose the circumstances leading to the granting of a waiver, which permitted Mr LEUNG to leave immediately, had deprived the public of a full knowledge of an issue which could be of public interest, such as should it be related to the integrity or personal conduct of Mr LEUNG. Referring to the grounds for approval of waiver as set out in the paper, Mrs CHOW enquired which particular reason had been applied in Mr LEUNG’s case.

6. Mr LAM advised that the five categories as listed out, although being the major grounds for approving a waiver, were by no means exhaustive. As cases varied in their nature, the Administration had exercised flexibility in examining the applications. Out of the 30 cases where a waiver had been granted to directorate officers since 1 April 1994, at least six cases had been approved on grounds which fell outside the scope of these five categories. There had been three cases in which a waiver had been granted within one month. In Mr LEUNG’s case, the waiver had been granted within one week.

7. Addressing Members’ concern about the alleged laxity with which the Administration had approved applications which could lead to a possible abuse of the system, Mr LAM emphasised that the factor which was of foremost importance was whether there would be succession problems affecting the service as a result of the officers’ early departure. As far as Mr LEUNG’s case was concerned, he assured that there were candidates well qualified to succeed Mr LEUNG’s position and the efficient operation of the Immigration Department would not be affected. He supplemented that in certain cases, such as cases of officers retiring on medical grounds, it was normal practice of the Administration to consider a waiver application with a greater degree of leniency.

8. Members expressed that the cloud of secrecy surrounding Mr LEUNG’s retirement had aroused public suspicion over the real reason for Mr LEUNG’s immediate departure. This would seriously undermine the credibility of the government in the absence of a satisfactory explanation. Mr LAM responded that although there might be doubts over the propriety of his granting a waiver, he could firmly say that the approval was fully justified. Yet he maintained that no further details could be provided as regards Mr LEUNG’s retirement as he was bound by a professional code of conduct to safeguard personal information.

9. Mr James TO reflected that the refusal of the Administration to reveal the crucial facts of the case would only serve to heighten speculation of a government cover-up. He expressed that as the credibility of the government was at stake, the Legislative Council should conduct a public hearing on this case by authority vested under the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance (Cap 382).

10. The Chairman remarked that the replies given by Mr LAM to Members’ queries had failed to clear the doubts attached to the matter, having regard to the peculiarities of the case. At this juncture, the Chairman opined that the meeting with the Administration should end and he thanked representatives from the Administration for attending the meeting.

II. Internal Discussion on Course of Action

11. Upon deliberation, Members agreed that before another follow-up meeting was to be convened, the following actions should be taken:

(a) To seek advice from the Legal Advisor as to the holding of an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the retirement of the former Director of Immigration; the likely constraints or limitations in the exercise of powers available to the Panel under the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance (Cap 382) and other possible options to achieve the objective of making the Administration to disclose the details.

Legal Adviser

(b) The Chairman to seek written information from the Administration with regard to:

(i) the date of the discussion with Mr LEUNG concerning his retirement immediately before Mr LEUNG tendered his notice to retire;

(ii) the date of Mr LEUNG’s notice to retire;

(iii) the number of directorate level officers applying for a waiver of notice since 1 April 1994; and

(iv) during the same period, the number of directorate officers who had left the service within one week after being granted a waiver of notice.

(Post meeting note: A letter from the Chairman in respect of (b) above has been issued to the Secretary for the Civil Service on 12 July 1996 and circulated to Members vide LP CB(2) 1870/95-96).

12. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 3:15 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
29 July 1996

* ---- Other Commitments

Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998