LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2293/96-97
(The minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1

LegCo Panel on Public Service

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 27 January 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
    Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
    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
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

    Hon Allen LEE Peng-fei, CBE, JP *
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP *
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin *
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP *

Public Officers attending :

    For All Items

    Mr W K LAM
    Secretary for the Civil Service

    For Item III

    Mr Patrick LAU
    Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3

    Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service)

    Mr W M CHAN
    Assistant Director (Special Health Services)

    Miss Cathy CHU
    Principal Assistant Secretary (Narcotics)

    For Item IV

    Ms Sandra LEE
    Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)1

    For Item V

    Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

    Mrs Philomena LEUNG
    Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service)

Clerk in attendance:

    Mrs Sharon TONG
    Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1

Staff in attendance :

    Mr Paul WOO
    Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

* other commitments

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 25 November 1996

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 996/96-97)

The minutes of meeting held on 25 November 1996 were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.The next meeting would be held on Monday, 24 February 1997 at 10:45 am to discuss the following items:

  1. Matters arising - staff consultation on issues arising from the Court of Appeal judgment on various measures to implement the localization policy in the civil service;

  2. Monitoring mechanism over the repayment of housing loan;

  3. Allowances for overtime work; and

  4. Transition of the civil service.

III. Matter arising

Follow up on secondment of civil servant to the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers (SARDA)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1027/96-97(01))

3.In response to members’ queries on the recruitment difficulties faced by SARDA in filling the post of Executive Director, Assistant Director (Special Health Services) (AD(SHS)) said that the stated preference in previous recruitment exercises for candidates with experience in the drug treatment and rehabilitation field might have limited the number of prospective candidates. It was felt that the post actually required the incumbent to possess strong administrative and leadership skills more than experience in the drug field. In view of this, SARDA had deleted the latter experience requirement for this year’s recruitment exercise which was currently in progress. So far 40 applications were received. A number of applicants were having good qualifications and short-listing of applications was being carried out.

4.Referring to the Chairman’s question. AD(SHS) said that the terms and conditions for the post of Executive Director of SARDA were broadly comparable to that of similar posts in other public-funded organizations. She added that in the event that the present recruitment exercise was still unsuccessful, there would be a need for the present secondment arrangement to continue in order to maintain the necessary continuity in the work of SARDA. AD(SHS) said that SARDA was aware of the urgent need for it to recruit its own Executive Director. In fact, in 1994, one particular candidate was found to be suitable for the post. Yet, for personal reasons, that candidate subsequently declined the offer. It was therefore quite likely that a suitable person could be recruited this year.

5.Secretary for the Civil Service(SCS) added that the Administration had been careful in assessing and reviewing secondment arrangements against the needs peculiar to the organizations concerned and the resources implications involved. In principle, the Administration was of the view that the organizations having their own permanent staff was beneficial to their long-term development.

IV.Regulations on the appointment, removal and discipline of civil servants after 1997

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1027/96-97(02))

6.Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)1 (DS(CS)1) took members through the points covered in LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1027/96-97(02). She said that the Civil Service Branch (CSB), with the advice of the Attorney General (AG), was actively considering how best to proceed with the continuation of the authority for the appointment, removal and discipline of civil servants after 30 June 1997, as presently provided for in the Letters Patent(LP) and the Colonial Regulations (CRs), which would lapse on 1 July 1997.

7.Members requested for more details concerning the present state of affairs as regards the localization of the relevant provisions of LP and CRs and the progress of staff consultation.

8.In response, DS(CS)1 said that the Administration had yet to come up with a finalized view on the issues involved. While enactment of legislation was a possible way to provide for continuation of the authority under LP and CRs, other options would also be explored. Regarding appeal channels for civil servants, a proposal was made earlier to amending the Regulation of the Public Service Commission Ordinance to provide for appeal matters to be handled by a separate mechanism. The proposal was for the final appeal to rest with the future Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government.

9.SCS informed members that most of the regulations related to the management of the civil service were included in the CSRs, which had been suitably modernized and localized. As far as the appointment, removal and discipline of civil servants were concerned, the Administration was not aiming at a complete overhaul of the existing system, but rather at finding suitable arrangements to replace the source of powers presently provided for in the imperial legislation, so that the smooth operation of the civil service would not be affected after the handover. As these matters carried complex legal and constitutional implications, the Administration was seeking AGC’s advice and consulting the Staff Sides on the feasibility of the various options. Since there had yet to be a concrete proposal, the matter had not been referred to the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) for deliberation. He said that the Administration’s preference was to localize the relevant powers and to have them vested in the SAR Government. SCS further explained that inasmuch as the source of powers at present rested with The Queen, they were in fact exercised administratively by the Governor and delegated, where appropriate, to the Policy Secretaries and Heads of Departments. The Administration’s intention was to have the source of authority resting with the SAR Government. SCS added that the matter would be accorded with top priority and a solution would be worked out as soon as possible. He said that hopefully the Administration might be able to revert to members at the next meeting with more specific information on the progress of deliberation.

10.Members expressed serious concern about the slow progress in coming up with a concrete proposal as the LP and CRs would lapse in about five months. Members were also concerned that this important issue related to the transition of the civil service had never been discussed by the JLG. Members would like to know the principal option and all other options that were being considered, the pros and cons of and the complexity involved in each of these options, and the plan in finalizing the proposal and its implementation. In addition, members asked how the Royal Prerogative (RP), under which the LP and CRs were made, would be adapted after the handover, and how the final appeal channel for civil servants was to be decided. In this regard, members requested the Administration to provide information on the background on and the exercise of the RP, the number of petitions addressed to the Secretary of State or The Queen by civil servants and how these cases had been handled. Adm

11. Members also pointed out that, in addition to the localization matter, the Administration should conduct a comprehensive review to modernize and rationalize the existing instruments with a view to improving staff management and labour relations. Thorough consultation with the Staff Councils should be sought.

12.Members decided that the subject matter of regulations on the appointment, removal and discipline of civil servants after 1997 should be discussed in further detail at the next meeting. The Administration was requested to provide a written response to the above points before the next meeting. Adm

V.Continual employment of short-term or temporary staff in the civil service

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1027/96-97(03))

13. Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2 (DS(CS)2) highlighted the principles in respect of the policy governing employment of short-term or temporary staff in the civil service, as set out in LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1027/96-97(03)).

14.Mr LEE Cheuk-yan said that, to his knowledge, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) had been employing quite a number of staff on temporary contracts intermittently, with a short break of service of seven days for every period of employment of three months. Some temporary staff had been employed in this pattern for as long as six years. Mr LEE said that the effect of such intermittent employment was that a continuous contract or a long term employment was avoided and hence the temporary staff concerned would be deprived of certain statutory protections provided under the Employment Ordinance. He queried if such practice by RTHK had ceased. He also asked the Administration to clarify whether, in the event of these temporary staff applying to fill certain permanent posts or being terminated service, the whole duration of their employment would be recognized.

15.DS(CS)2 replied that the majority of temporary staff employed by RTHK were departmental contract staff who were tied to specific programmes and worked for the duration of the programmes. The terms and conditions applicable to these temporary staff were comparable to those available elsewhere in the broadcasting industry and the staff were entitled to the prescribed benefits under the Employment Ordinance. Efforts were being made to reduce the number of departmental contract staff in RTHK. In deed, eight separate recruitment exercises were in progress with a view to replacing approximately 40 staff by permanent posts. In addition, RTHK was conducting a full-scale review, taking into account developments in the employment of temporary staff in the broadcasting industry as a whole. DS(CS)2 stressed that the policy was that prolonged employment of temporary staff was not encouraged unless there were strong reasons for that. Where staffing resources were required on a long-term basis, permanent posts should be created. Temporary staff were given equal opportunity to apply for permanent civil service posts, subject to the usual qualification requirements. Their relevant working experience would also be taken into account. However, there would be no automatic transfer of temporary staff to permanent posts simply by virtue of their length of service with the departments concerned. The Administration undertook to reply in writing as to the other queries raised by Mr LEE.

(Post-meeting note: The written response by the Administration has been circulated to members after the meeting vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1315/96-97(01)).

16.In response to further questions from members, DS(CS)2 said that the vast majority of temporary staff in the Urban Service Department (USD) and Regional Services Department (RSD) were ushers, life-guards, ticketing assistants and casual labourers etc. Both departments were expected to create permanent civil service posts, where appropriate. The departments had a separate programme of privatization of some of their activities. In order to maintain the services provided to the public during the transition to contracting out of those services, the employment of short-term or temporary staff was necessary. The Administration agreed to provide information on the number of temporary staff in USD, RSD and RTHK who had been employed for more than one year, the number of temporary staff occupying civil service posts and the number of them occupying posts which might be deleted upon contracting out of service.

(Post-meeting note: The information provided by the Administration has been circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1315/96-97(01)).

17.Some members suggested that consideration should be given to providing temporary staff who had been employed for an extended period of time with additional benefits similar in nature to that of a gratuity payable to officers employed on agreement terms. DS(CS)2 replied that while there was a genuine need for temporary staff, the objective was to keep the employment period as short as possible. In some individual instances where temporary staff had been employed for an exceptionally long period and where justifiable grounds existed, additional benefits had been awarded. Nevertheless, in view of the wide variety of temporary posts, it would not be possible to devise a systemic approach to this practice to cover all temporary staff. He reiterated that where there was a longer term need for staff, the obvious solution would be to create permanent posts so that the incumbents got the appropriate full range of civil service benefits. DS(CS)2 added that CSB would review and update the relevant civil service circulars with respect to, inter alia, the terms and conditions of short-term temporary staff. Guidelines would be issued to remind departments of the arrangements related to the employment of temporary staff.

18.In reply to the question from Dr Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung and Ms Emily LAU Wai-hing, DS(CS)2 advised that the employment of short-term or temporary staff provided a flexibility for departments to cater for special operational need. It was not a means to reduce costs. The Government’s policy was to create a permanent civil service establishment for the benefit of long-term continuity and commitment. The creation of posts, whether of a permanent or short-term nature, must be justified on the basis of service needs. Mr Michael HO Mun-ka opined that there should be a monitoring mechanism, particularly for departments operating with Trading Funds, to guard against employment of temporary staff intermittently for the sole purpose of reducing operating costs. The Administration noted the view.

VI.Transition of the civil service

19. SCS informed members that the latest figure of civil servants already on secondment to the Chief Executive (CE) Office was 17. According to the estimate made by the CE Office, a total of 29 officers from the Government would be required to provide the necessary support to the CE Office. Depending on the actual needs of the CE Office and the request from the CE Designate, more civil servants would be seconded in due course. As to the accountability of the secondees, SCS said that they would be responsible to the head of the organization to which they were seconded, i.e. the CE Designate. This was in line with the usual secondment practice in the civil service. SCS added that civil service secondees were still bound by CSRs, the Official Secrets Act and rules governing the prevention of conflicts of interest of civil servants etc.

20.Ms Emily LAU Wai-hing enquired if officers on secondments to the CE Office would be forced to carry out duties which ran counter to established Government polices, such as amending the Societies Ordinance and the Public Order Ordinance. SCS said that the CE Designate had openly made the point that civil servants working for the CE Office would not be placed in a difficult position. Civil servants should be rest assured of that undertaking.

21.Members requested the Administration to provide update on the number of civil servants seconded to the CE Office every one or two weeks for members’ information, in case there were frequent changes. Adm

VII.Close of meeting

22. The meeting closed at 12:55 pm

LegCo Secretariat

28 April 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998