LEGCO Paper No. CB(2) 1632/95-96
(The minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/PS

Minutes of Meeting of the LegCo Panel on Public Service

held on Tuesday, 26 March 1996 at 10:45 a.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
    Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin

Members Absent :

    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung #
    Hon Allen LEE Peng-fei, CBE, JP *
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP *
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka *
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong *
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong *
    Hon LO Suk-ching *
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE,ISO, JP *

Public Officers Attending :

For All Items
Mr W K LAM Secretary for the Civil Service

For Agenda Item III
Mr Patrick L C LAU Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3
Miss Yvonne Y P CHOI Commissioner for Official Languages
Mrs Margaret CHAN Principal Executive Officer
(Special Duties)
Mr Cletus LAU Director of the General Grades

For Agenda Item IV
Mr M V STONE Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

Staff in Attendance :

    Mrs Sharon TONG Chief Asst Secy (2)1
    Miss Odelia LEUNG Sr Asst Secy (2)1

I. Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting

The minutes of meeting held on 26 February 1996 were confirmed (Ref: LP No. PL 1082/95-96)

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. The next meeting would be held on 22 April 1996 (Monday) at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the following items:

  1. civil service pension commitment;
  2. review on overseas education allowances; and
  3. policy on declaration of overseas investments by civil servants.

3. Members agreed that the transition of the civil service would be a standing item for discussion from the next meeting onwards and that the problem about non-performers in the civil service should be discussed at the May meeting.

4.At the suggestion of Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, the meeting agreed to discuss under “Any other Business” the issue on whether civil servants had to declare support for the Provisional Legislature for retention in the civil service after June 1997.

III. Update on use of Chinese in the civil service

(Appendix I to LP No. PL 1074/95-96)

5. Members were generally concerned about the pace in promoting the use of Chinese in the civil service. They enquired whether the Administration had any time-table in this regard and how the Administration would proceed with the task. Some members were concerned whether the wider use of Chinese in the civil service would diminish the importance of English with the result that Government documents would only be available in the Chinese language.

6. The response of the Administration is set out below.

  1. It was not practical to set any timetable, but the Administration would continue to promote the wider use of Chinese vigorously.
  2. The Home Affairs Department and the Housing Department were the first two departments to implement pilot schemes in order to promote the use of Chinese in a more systematic and focused manner, and through the process, enabled the rest of the civil service to draw practical experience. The Administration would approach a few more departments to implement pilot schemes. These departments included Education Department, Social Welfare Department, Immigration Department, Labour Department, Regional Services Department and Urban Services Department. They were selected because of their extensive day to day contacts with the public.
  3. According to information obtained through the networking system introduced by the Chinese Language Division (Official Languages Agency (OLA) w.e.f. 1 April 1996), well over half of the departments/branches had already set up their own working groups or mechanisms to promote greater use of Chinese. On the basis of feedback from departments, a valuable data-base on the use of Chinese throughout the civil service would be established. This would facilitate further planning and coordination of efforts by OLA to encourage departments to widen the use of Chinese. As the promotion of greater use of Chinese was one of the seven key tasks for the Civil Service Branch, the Administration assured members that it would adopt a very vigorous and proactive approach to achieve that objective. The Administration would provide a list of branches/departments which had set up working groups or had had their mechanisms to further the use of Chinese.

    (Post-meeting Note: The requested information provided by the Administration has been circulated to members vide LP No. CB(2) 1031/95-96)

  4. In practice, departments corresponded with members of the public in Chinese if the latter wrote in Chinese. Government papers to LegCo, in majority cases, were bilingual. English and Chinese records would co-exist. The Administration adopted a pragmatic approach on the question of timing for developing a biliterate civil service. It would be up to individual departments to determine the extent and pace of using Chinese, depending on their own circumstances and operational requirements. There was no question of Chinese replacing English. Both were official languages.
  5. The Administration believed that a good many civil servants had attained a basic standard in Chinese and should be able to operate in Chinese if required. However, they needed time to practise and get accustomed to using Chinese in written communication and with some appropriate facilitation aids.

7. The Deputy Chairman raised his concern about the disparity in terms of employment between typists and calligraphists and enquired whether the Administration would review the policy on this area. Miss Yvonne CHOI said that the two grades had different entry requirements which accounted for the different terms of employment. Mr Cletus LAU supplemented that the Grade Management proposed to revise the existing system of incremental credit for Typists and Personal Secretaries to provide an increment to those staff who had attained a certain level of proficiency in Chinese typing. Mr W K LAM said that due to historical factors, the salary scales of the two grades were different, but a review was underway on the calligraphist grade.

IV. Review of policy on terms of abolition of office

(Appendix II to LP PL 1074/95-96)

8. Some members pointed out that as the purpose of granting ex-gratia payments to ex-civil servants was to compensate them for the loss of job in the civil service, the staff of the Airport Management Division of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) should not be entitled to any payments since they did not suffer any loss of job. The Chairman questioned whether the Administration had handled the case in a way which was inconsistent with the guidelines on cessation of office (Ref: paragraph 3(a) in Annex to Appendix II to LP No. PL 1074/95-96). Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was concerned whether granting ex-gratia payments to CAD staff was an abuse of the system. In Mr CHEUNG’s view, different terms should be offered to civil servants affected by privatisation or incorporatisation in different situations rather than the standardised abolition of office terms.

9. The response of the Administration is summarised below.

  1. The paragraph referred to by the Chairman applied to cases in which the new organisation had reached an agreement with the Administration to take on the staff on either civil service terms or bridging-over terms. It did not apply to cases where the new organisation was private in nature and decided on its own to offer employment to ex-civil servants. Legally the Administration could not require civil servants to work for another organisation.
  2. Depending on the type of the organisation and the circumstances, transfer of civil servants to the new organisation might or might not be possible. Through practice, the Administration considered it appropriate to differentiate between organisations which had structure, terms of conditions and working culture similar to those of a government department and organisations which were quite different in these aspects. The Administration would assess each case to decide on the most appropriate way in dealing with the staffing issue.
  3. Staff who were not offered employment by the new organisation were not necessarily worse off. They might find a better job. The Administration had considered the merits of introducing flexibility on the terms upon abolition of office. The Administration was of the view that if the staff felt that there was room for bargaining over the ex-gratia amounts, it would complicate the situation and create trouble for both the management and the staff. Moreover, if ex-gratia payments were given only to those who would not take the offer from the new organisation, the staff would have a disincentive to join the new organisation, resulting in a loss of expertise and talents which would be essential to the smooth operation of the new organisation. Balancing all these factors, the Administration hence adopted a pragmatic solution and standardised the abolition of office terms at an ex-gratia payment of six months’ salary
  1. In the great majority of cases, cessation or reduction of services provided by Government departments could be done through voluntary redundancy. Staff were seldom forced to leave against their wishes and the number of which in the past privatisation/corporatisation exercises were limited. In the case of voluntary redundancy, the management would work for the most senior staff downwards and would give priority choice to the longer serving staff who wished to retire, i.e. the principle of “first in first choice”. If there were insufficient volunteers and compulsory redundancy became necessary, the management would apply the principle of “last in first out” and work from the most junior staff upwards. Once the staff had joined the new body, the Administration would not follow them up as the management would be a matter entirely for the new body. In mixed staffing situation, the Administration would continue to look after those staff who joined the new body but retained their civil servant status. The Administration would provide written information on the number of staff affected by privatisation/corporatisation exercises over the past few years.


10. Mr David CHU said that whilst he agreed with some members’ view that in the CAD case, it was an effective transfer rather than termination of employment. However, having considered the specialised and unique nature of the job and the importance to ensure aviation safety, Mr CHU considered it acceptable that a higher incentive should be offered to the CAD staff to encourage them to stay on with the Airport Authority. To this end, Mr CHU suggested that an ex-gratia payment equivalent to five months’ salary should be payable to the CAD staff.

11. Notwithstanding the Administration’s explanations, some members still had reservations about the way the Administration had handled the CAD case. At members’ suggestion, the Administration agreed to review the existing general guidelines on staffing issues in privatisation/corporatisation exercises to take account of the change in circumstances over the years.


V. Any Other Business

12. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong stated that Article 100 of the Basic Law (BL) clearly provided for the transition of civil servants without any pre-conditions. He was gravely concerned about a recent statement by a Chinese official as reported in the press that civil servants had to openly support the Provisional Legislature for retention of employment after the change of sovereignty. The imposition of this pre-condition amounted to a violation of Article 100 and of the long-standing principle of political neutrality of civil servants. Mr CHEUNG called on the Administration to urgently clarify the issue with the Chinese Government. Mr CHEUNG’s views were echoed by Ms Emily LAU and Mr LEE Cheuk-yan. Ms Emily LAU said that the British Government had a responsibility to clarify whether the establishment of the Provisional Legislature and the imposition of pre-conditions for the transition of civil servants violated the BL and the Sino-British Joint Declaration (JD).

13. Mr W K LAM said in categorical terms that Section 6 in Chapter IV of the BL laid down the provisions concerning civil servants. The BL stated that apart from the appointment of a number of principal officials who were to be nominated by the Chief Executive for appointment by the Central People’s Government, civil servants serving in all Hong Kong Government departments might remain in employment. As such the Administration did not see any need to seek clarification on the issue. The Administration would act in accordance with the provisions of the BL and JD in respect of transitional arrangements. Mr LAM said that to this date, the Administration had not received any official statement from the Chinese Government regarding the conditions for the transition of civil servants.

14. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, Ms Emily LAU and Mr LEE Cheuk-yan remained of the view that to allay the concern of civil servants and to set the records straight, the Administration should clarify the issue of declaring support for the Provisional Legislature with the Chinese Government through the Joint Liaison Group.

15. The Deputy Chairman said that the Preparatory Committee made an official statement after the second meeting which did not touch upon the issue. Mr David CHU said that he agreed with Mr W K LAM’s view on the issue. Mr CHAN Wing-chan said that the setting up of the Provisional Legislature was necessary under the no “through-train” arrangements. The Chairman said that he did not agree that there was no legal basis for the establishment of the Provisional Legislature. Given that the setting up of the Provisional Legislature was endorsed by the Central People’s Government, to pledge allegiance to the Special Administrative Region should therefore include supporting the Provisional Legislature.

16. The meeting ended at 12:30 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
21 June 1996

* -- Other Commitments
# -- Away from Hong Kong

Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998