LEGCO Paper No. CB(2) 1945/95-96
(The minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/PS

LegCo Panel on Public Service

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 27 May 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 Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP

Members Absent :

    Hon Allen LEE Peng-fei, CBE, JP *
    Hon LO Suk-ching *

Public Officers Attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service
Ms Sandra LEE
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 1

Item III

Mr Patrick L C LAU
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 3
Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service)

Staff in Attendance :

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

I. Date of Next Meeting and Items for Discussion

The next meeting would be held on Monday, 24 June 1996 at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the following items:

  1. Civil Service Pay Trend Survey and Pay Adjustments;
  2. Creation of New Posts in the Civil Service;
  3. Transition of the Civil Service

II. Matters Arising from the Last Meeting Staff Consultation on Cessation of Overseas Education Allowance to New Recruits

2. On the latest development regarding the proposal to cease providing Overseas Education Allowance (OEA) to new recruits, Mr W K LAM advised that the Administration had acceded to the staff sides’ request for more time to study the proposal. Further discussion would therefore take place at the next meeting of the Senior Civil Service Council scheduled for early July 1996. Mr LAM said that the proposal had not been implemented but it was the strong wish of the Administration to implement the recommendations as originally intended.

3. Ms Emily LAU remarked that consultation should have taken place before the proposal was tabled at the Panel when members were then informed that the proposal would be implemented in May. She asked if there would be new applications for OEA during the period of delay in implementation and what additional burden would these new applications impose on taxpayers. She also enquired of the objections from the staff sides to the proposal. In reply, Mr LAM said that while the staff had known for quite a long time in advance of the proposal, the formal circular to announce the recommendations was issued in May. As it involved a policy change with regard to terms and conditions of service, the Administration considered it necessary to allow ample opportunity for the staff to express their views and for the Administration to listen to the feedback. The extension of the time for consultation had not given rise to additional financial burden as it had been clearly set out that existing civil servants would not be affected. On the other hand, the number of new recruits appointed during this period relative to the existing total force of the Civil Service was only minimal. Mr LAM further advised that the opinion gathered from the Central Consultative Councils varied. While some staff sides had expressed disappointment at the proposal, they had raised no definite objection. The Senior Civil Service Council, however, had objected in principle that the proposal was in breach of the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It was also alleged that the proposal would create divisions within the civil service. The Administration, nevertheless, did not agree to the view because reviews and adjustments of civil service pay and conditions had been ongoing and it was not uncommon that civil servants joining service at different times were entitled to different benefits. The fact that the cessation of OEA would not apply to serving officers would not lead to a violation of the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration.

4. On the request made by the Chairman at the last meeting for information on forthcoming changes to civil service fringe benefits, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong stated that he had written to the Civil Service Branch (CSB) and subsequently a reply had been made to him by CSB. Mr LAM undertook to provide a copy of the reply to the Panel.

(Post meeting note: information provided by the Administration has been circulated to members vide LP CB(2) 1601/95-96).

III. Measures to Tackle the Issue of Non-Performers in the Civil Service

(Appendix I to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1382/95-96)

5. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Patrick L C LAU highlighted the policy to deal with non-performers in the civil service. He stated that existing requirements and measures concerning performance management included, among other things, regular performance appraisals, staff appraisal interviews, advice on shortcomings in performance, and in serious cases, compulsory retirement in the public interest under Colonial Regulations (CR) 59. In providing guidelines for departmental managers, emphasis was placed on early detection of shortcomings and their rectification through appropriate counselling, guidance and training. In warranted circumstances, disciplinary measures would be taken against non-performers by means of termination of service during probation period, refusal of passage of efficiency bar and stoppage and deferment of increment etc. Compulsory retirement under CR59 would only be applied as a measure of last resort. Mr LAU added that since last February when the revised guidelines on procedures in respect of application of CR59 were promulgated and as at the end of April 1996, five cases were being processed by the CSB, with three officers recommended for compulsory retirement and two other officers placed under special observation. Departmental consideration was also being given to putting six other officers under special observation.

6. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan queried that, according to a press report, there had been a total of 137 cases of compulsory retirement for 1995/1996. He also expressed worry at the possibility of corruption being a cause for these forced retirement cases. In response, Mr LAU said that CR59 applied to a wide range of cases in which officers could be compulsorily retired from service for reasons other than unsatisfactory performance. This included cases where the officer had committed serious misconduct. He said that the figure as reported by the press might include these cases as well. He agreed to provide a breakdown by causes and departments of the cases for 1995.


7. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed that the procedures to be followed in respect of application of CR59 were too cumbersome. It would probably take more than one year for the whole process to complete, from the initial issue of warning to the final stage of having the non-performing officer retired from service. He queried if the time required was more than necessary. Mr LAU replied that the present arrangements took into account all the factors and the staff’s demand for impartiality and fairness. The special observation period of six to eight months, for example, was meant to allow sufficient opportunity for the officer to improve performance. During this period, two assessment reports would be completed by the officer’s supervisor. The first report would cover the first three months of the observation period. Action against the officer would cease if the improvements as required were made. Otherwise, a second report for the following three or, if necessary, five months, would be completed. If both reports were unsatisfactory, a recommendation for compulsory retirement under CR59 would be made by the Head of Department to the Secretary for the Civil Service.

8. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong remarked that staff unions should have a greater part to play in the mechanism of “fast-track arrangement” to deal with non-performers. He held that unions with an objective view would help to streamline the procedures involved and to ensure that any action taken against the officers concerned was fair. Mr LAU said that he doubted the involvement of unions would expedite procedures since it would mean creating one more party, and therefore add complications, to the issue. He also questioned what effective role staff unions could play in assessing the standard of performance of individual officers. Mr W K LAM supplemented that unions were not a party to the employer-employee relationship between the Administration and individual officers although they could express opinion on general matters affecting staff interests as well as on the policy and structure of staff consultations.

9. Dr Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung enquired of the number of cases in which appropriate action, other than action under CR59, had been taken against non-performing officers. He also asked whether any arrangement had been in place to replace CR59 after 1997. Mr LAU responded that for 1995, there were a total of 34 cases of prolonging the probationary period, 22 cases of termination of service during the probationary period, one case of refusal of passage of efficiency bar and 13 cases of stoppage and deferment of increment. The total of these cases were 70 as against 61 for 1994. Mr LAU stated that arrangements would be made to localise CRs so that there would be a similar mechanism in force after 1997. Mr LAM supplemented that localisation could be achieved through replacing CRs with Civil Service Regulations, or by enacting new regulations. A decision had yet to be made. He assured that, as in past instances, any proposed change in major government policy would be submitted for the Panel’s consideration.

10. Concerning Ms Emily LAU’s question on whether stoppage of the civil service’s annual pay adjustment had been used as a measure to deal with unsatisfactory performance, Mr LAM maintained that annual pay adjustments should be seen as an overall review of the salary levels for the various grades within the civil service, having regard to the prevalent pay trends, the cost of living changes and the other relevant changes that had been taking place in the private sector. It should therefore be separated from the scenario of disciplining individual officers. A distinction should be drawn between the annual salary adjustment and the increments on the pay scale. Mr LAM, however, emphasised that suitable measures would be taken as and when necessary. For example, there had been cases where stoppage and deferment of increments had been applied to non-performing officers. He agreed to provide information on these cases for the past one to two years.


11. In response to the Chairman’s enquiry on the entitlement for a deferred pension of an officer compulsorily retired under CR59, Ms Sandra LEE clarified that for cases of compulsory retirement for unsatisfactory performance, the officer concerned would normally be eligible for a deferred pension. However, subject to other considerations, the Governor could authorise for the payment of a deferred pension at a reduced rate under the law. For cases involving misconduct of a serious nature such as conviction of a criminal offence or corruption, the law provided for cancellation or suspension of pension benefits.

12. Mrs Elizabeth WONG pointed out that from her personal experience as a former senior civil servant, she had known of cases where the supervisor was not exactly revealing what was actually written in the performance appraisal report when conducting staff appraisal interview with the appraisee. In many of these cases, adverse comments about the appraisee’s performance had not been made known to the appraisee and this had led to disputes afterwards. Mrs WONG enquired if a new method of conducting appraisal interviews could be adopted, for example, to sound record the proceedings of appraisal interviews. This would ensure that proper interviews would be conducted by supervisors. Mr LAU replied that in trying to improve the mode of conducting performance appraisals, the Administration had now required that the appraising officers must show the completed reports to the appraisees and the appraisees to acknowledge the reports at the interview. Any disagreement between the parties should also be recorded. Mrs WONG however doubted the effectiveness of this practice and opined that it would likely result in the appraisees being harassed into accepting the report without option. She stressed that the purpose of an appraisal interview should be to provide an opportunity for frank discussion during which guidance on improving performance could be given. Mr LAU stated that the Administration would continue to examine ways to improve the means to achieving better performance management.

13. Mr CHAN Wing-chan asked what other actions had been taken by the Administration, apart from the above-mentioned disciplinary measures, to achieve better staff performance. Mr LAU advised that the Administration had been providing ongoing training courses on personnel and human resources management for supervisors at various levels, as well as a wide range of seminars and other activities which aimed at strengthening training in providing a quality service to the public. On Mr CHAN’s further question on the number of these training activities organised in a year, Mr LAU agreed to provide the relevant data for members’ information.


IV. Transition of Civil Service

14. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan enquired of the Administration’s policy on civil servants taking part in the Selection Committee. In his opinion, civil servants joining the Selection Committee would be a deviation from the Administration’s open statement of not supporting the formation of the Provisional Legislature. It would also involve matters of conflicts of interest. On this issue, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed that a clarification had to be made by the Administration on whether it would allow civil servants, in the name of their unions or other professional institutions, to take part in political activities, such as activities relating to the setting up of the future Provisional Legislature, which contravened a government policy. Mr LAM replied that general guidelines existed which set out that civil servants could take part in legal political activities except for the following categories of officers who, by virtue of the nature of their duties, were advised not to participate:

  1. Directorate-level;
  2. Administrative Officers,
  3. Disciplinary Officers of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force; and
  4. Information Officers.

Mr LAM also clarified that existing guidelines stipulated that civil servants were only allowed to take part in legal political activities in their personal capacity or as representatives of relevant institutions. He maintained that since details concerning the Selection Committee, such as how it would be formed and operate etc, were yet to be revealed, he could not comment on how the existing guidelines could possibly apply to it.

15. Members felt that suitable guidance and directives should be provided by the Administration as soon as possible in order to allow civil servants to be fully aware of their position and the government’s policy on this important issue.

16. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:10 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
30 July 1996

* -- Other Commitments

Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998