Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 644
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1

Panel on Public Service

Minutes of meeting held on Tuesday, 14 October 1997 at 9:00 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong

Members absent :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP ] other commitments
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong ]

Public officers attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service

Ms Sandra LEE
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)1

Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3

Mr Cletus LAU
Director of General Grades

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Justina LAM
Assistant Secretary General 2

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I.Briefing by the Secretary for the Civil Service on the Chief Executive's Policy Address (Booklet on Policy Programme of the Civil Service Bureau - The 1997 Policy Address)

Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS) briefed members on the objectives and targets of the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) as set out in the Policy Programme of the CSB. He highlighted the CSB's proposed new commitments for the coming year pertaining to three major programme areas of the Bureau, namely, management of the civil service, civil service training and development, and use of official languages.

Elections for the National People's Congress

2.Mr CHENG Yiu-tong and Mr CHAN Wing-chan enquired if any decisions had been reached on whether civil servants could run for elections to the National People's Congress (NPC) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). SCS replied that the guidelines governing civil servants participation in political activities had not been changed. Under existing guidelines, civil servants could participate in legal political activities in their personal capacities, with the exception of the following four categories of officers :

  1. Directorate Officers;

  2. Administrative Officers;

  3. Police Officers; and

  4. Information Officers

At present, civil servants who wished to stand for elections to the three-tier of Government in Hong Kong had to resign from the civil service. SCS said that the principles of the guidelines had been upheld as a result of a judicial review by the High Court in 1996. He added that it was necessary to maintain political neutrality of the civil service. As the NPC was the highest legislative body of the PRC which had an important role to play in the interpretation and implementation of the Basic Law, the matter of whether it would lead to a role conflict if civil servants were allowed to become deputies of the NPC had to be carefully considered. SCS further informed members that the Administration would review the existing guidelines when the rules for the NPC elections were finalized.

Review board on appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants

3.The Chairman enquired about the progress of the proposal to set up a review board to advise the Chief Executive (CE) on certain representations addressed to him on appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants. The Administration advised that the authority to appoint, dismiss and discipline civil servants, which was formerly provided for under the Letters Patent and the Colonial Regulations, had lapsed after the transfer of sovereignty. To provide continuity of the authority, the relevant provisions and regulations had been localized to become the Public Service (Administration) Order . The source of authority, which included that for a final appeal mechanism, now rested with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government.

4.The Administration pointed out that the function of the future review board was to advise the CE on particular appeal cases as the CE considered necessary. There already existed appeal channels within the Government structure to deal with matters relating to appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants in specific grades, such as appeal channels on discipline matter for officers in the disciplined services. The review board in question would not operate in such a way as to affect the proper functioning of the existing appeal mechanisms. The current thinking was that cases must first be dealt with by the appropriate appeal systems before representations could be referred to the review board. As regards the composition of the review board, the Administration advised that it had been proposed that members of the board should be appointed from people with a neutral stance and who took a keen interest in public affairs. The Administration undertook to revert to the Panel on the progress when it consulted staff on the matter.Adm

Performance appraisal

5.With regard to the improvement of the performance measurement system within the Government, SCS said that CSB was working closely with several designated departments on a pilot scheme basis with a view to developing an enhanced performance management system which was more target and result-oriented. This was part of CSB's on-going programme to ensure that services that were most needed by the public would be provided in a cost-effective manner. It was intended that an improved system, when finalized, would be rolled-out to other government departments. SCS added that the Finance Bureau was also examining ways to provide an improved management process to enhance the measurement of the output of government services from a budgetary and resource planning point of view. He said that the two Bureaux were working in collaboration to achieve the policy objective of delivering quality and value for money services to the public.

Suspension of pension for civil servants taking up post-retirement employment

6.In response to the Chairman's enquiry, SCS said that a review of the policy on the suspension of pension for retired civil servants taking up post-retirement jobs in public organizations was being conducted. There were different views expressed on the subject. One major argument was that pension was earned by an officer during his/her service in the civil service and thus it should not be suspended, regardless of whether the officer worked for a private sector employer or in a public-funded organization after retirement. Some people considered that the policy of suspension would discourage experienced civil servants from continuing to work and to contribute to the public at large after retirement. In addition, the meaning of public-funded organizations should be more clearly defined. SCS advised that the Administration had yet to come up with any decision arising from the review. The Administration would consult the Staff Central Consultative Councils on this issue and the results would be reported to the Panel in due course.Adm

Retirement age

7.Mrs Elsie TU said that as people tended to live much longer nowadays, consideration should be given to allow capable and experienced civil servants who had passed retirement age to continue to serve in the civil service. SCS responded that the pensions legislation prescribed the retirement age of civil servants. As a result of a review in the 1980s, the retirement age had been raised from 55 to 60 for officers on the new pension scheme. Officers in grades requiring degree qualifications as entry requirements normally joined the civil service at the age of 22 or 23. They would have served up to 37 to 38 years by the time they retired at 60. Officers who joined at an earlier age could well have served over 40 years at retirement. SCS added that the present civil service had a young demographic profile. Many civil servants now serving at top management levels were still in their 40s. From the management point of view, the Administration needed to maintain a reasonable age distribution at various ranks so that the more junior officers could look forward to a career in the civil service with a reasonable promotion prospects. SCS said that the staff sides had not demanded for a review of the retirement age and the Administration had no plan for a review at this stage.

Staff wastage

8.In response to Mr CHAN Wing-chan, SCS replied that the present overall staff wastage rate was slightly over 4%, which was a low figure as compared with those in the past eight years. Wastage rate for directorate officers remained at the normal level of about 10%. The Administration did not foresee a sudden upward movement in the wastage rate. SCS added that the CSB had received a number of applications lately from civil servants to withdraw their former notifications to leave the service. This could be seen as an indicator of the civil servants' confidence in the SAR Government after the transition. At members' request, SCS agreed to provide statistics on wastage for members' information. Adm

Civil service fringe benefits

9.Members enquired of the mechanisms for the revision of the rates of allowance for the various housing benefits. The Administration replied that an important objective of a review which would be conducted next year was to look at the mechanisms to adjust the Home Finance Allowance (HFA) and Home Purchase Allowance (HPA). At present, HPA was adjusted to take effect from January whereas HFA from April, thus resulting in a mis-match in the rate of adjustment. The Administration found it necessary to standardize the time-frame for adjusting the two housing allowances, probably to take effect from April. The review would also aim to modernize some of the housing related benefits, such as furniture allowance, which had not been reviewed for many years and therefore had become out of touch with present day circumstances.

10.SCS added that CSB had not lost sight of the repeated demands from staff associations for speeding up the allocation of public housing to eligible civil servants, in particular those in the lower-income brackets such as the Model Scale One officers as well as those in the disciplined services. CSB would continue to pursue the matter with the Housing Authority to improve the situation.

11.As regards updating the provision of school and leave passages, the Administration informed members that recommendations would soon be submitted to the Provisional Legislative Council. The recommendations had taken into account the views and comments of the Director of Audit and the Public Accounts Committee. The new proposals provided for flexibility and cost savings by delinking leave passage allowance from the approved air fares and revising them according to changes in the Package Tour Prices under the Consumer Price Index. Officers eligible for school passages in the form of air tickets for their children who were in full time education overseas could get a school passage allowance for them to buy air tickets directly from the market.

Common terms of appointment and conditions of service (Common Terms)

12.SCS advised that the Common Terms, which sought to remove the existing differences between local and overseas terms of appointment, had been formulated following extensive consultation with the staff sides in 1993. The Administration was reviewing the proposals and would consult staff again although it hoped to implement them as soon as possible. He pointed out that according to the Basic Law, the implementation of the Common Terms would not affect officers serving on pensionable and permanent terms prior to the implementation, unless they opted for a change of terms themselves.

13.Members expressed the view that the plan set out in the CE's Policy Address to recruit about 700 native English-speaking teachers from overseas with housing benefits which were not available to local teachers could be discriminatory in nature and run counter to the spirit of the Common Terms. SCS said that the proposal in question was part of a comprehensive programme to improve education in Hong Kong and to enhance language proficiency of local school children. Housing benefits were offered as a means to attract suitable native English speaking teachers to come to Hong Kong. He added that the majority of these teachers would be employed in subsidized schools and they would not be appointed as civil servants. SCS further advised that decisions to implement the plan fell within the policy area of the Education and Manpower Bureau, details of which had yet to be finalized. CSB would offer advice where necessary to ensure that there would be fair treatment for all parties.

14.Mrs Elsie TU queried the need for employing English teachers from overseas. She considered that recruitment should take place in Hong Kong because there were plenty of local people who were excellent in both Chinese and English and who better understood the problems with the school children here than teachers from abroad. She suggested that the Government should offer better terms to attract such local teachers.

Wider use of Chinese in the civil service

15.The Administration advised that various measures would be implemented to promote wider use of Chinese in the civil service. These included, among other things, enhanced training in communication in Chinese, development of a common Chinese character set for personal computer systems to help electronic interchange of Chinese document files, and the launching of an experimental out-reach programme led by Chinese Language Officers to assist departments in their promotion of wider use of Chinese. The Administration pointed out that it had been the policy to reply to public enquiries in the language that the enquiries were made and there was an increasing trend to use Chinese in official correspondence where it suited the operational requirement.

Employment of handicapped persons in the civil service

16.The Administration informed members that as at April 1997, it employed 4 627 civil servants who were disabled people.

Creation of Deputy Secretaries of Departments posts

17.Mr CHENG Yiu-tong refered to Article 48(5) of the Basic Law which mentioned the appointment of Deputy Secretaries of Departments. He enquired whether such posts would be created in the future. SCS replied that creation of posts in the civil service was based on operational needs. Creation of directorate posts required the approval of the Finance Committee and the Establishment Subcommittee. SCS said that the posts of Deputy Secretaries of Departments would be created when the need arose but there was no plan at this point in time to create such posts.

II.Close of meeting

18.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:00 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
13 November 1997