Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 913
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1

Panel on Public Service

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 22 December 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 Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin ]
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP] other commitments
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP ]
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong]

Public officers attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service

Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

Item IV

Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3

Ms Bernadette LINN
Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service)

Item V

Mr Stephen FISHER
Deputy Director of Administration

Mrs Lilian WONG
Director of Protocol

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I.Confirmation of minutes of meetings
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2) 751 and 755)

The minutes of meetings held on 27 October 1997 and 24 November 1997 respectively were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

The next regular meeting of the Panel would be held on Monday, 26 January 1998 to discuss the following items :

  1. fringe benefits for staff of government-funded organizations and civil servants; and

  2. monitoring mechanism in creation of posts in the civil service.

III. Matters arising - Progress on the implementation of arrangements for transfer from agreement to local permanent and pensionable terms in the civil service

3.Principle Assistant Secretary (Civil Service) (PAS(CS)) gave a verbal report on the above subject matter. She informed members that the Civil Service Bureau had issued a Circular in mid-November to promulgate the details of the revised criteria and arrangements for transfer from local agreement terms to local permanent and pensionable terms (P&P terms) in the civil service. The Administration lifted on 15 November 1997 the suspension on all applications for transfer imposed on 31 October 1995, and all agreement officers on local agreement terms and locally modelled terms would henceforth be allowed to apply for transfer to local P&P terms, subject to the necessary requirements concerned. As regards the Chinese language requirement for transfer, PAS(CS) advised that Heads of Departments/Grades had been asked to determine the required standard in each grade as soon as possible, having regard to the operational needs peculiar to individual grades. A number of departments were still having internal consultation on the issue.

4.Regarding the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants of Hong Kong (AECS)'s application for the Court of Appeal to clarify its judgment handed down in November 1996 on transfer to local P&P terms, PAS(CS) reported that the application had been dismissed by the Court on 28 November 1997. She said that the judgment of 22 November 1996 had been sealed. She clarified that as yet the AECS had not taken any specific legal action to challenge the Chinese language requirement for transfer to local P&P terms.

5.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat opined that the Government had an obligation to stand by its commitments to agreement officers as to their continued employment in the civil service. He said that it was unfair to impose a Chinese language requirement for transfer on serving agreement officers as it was a condition not in existence when those officers were first appointed. He queried whether the language requirement should be implemented, given that English was still one of the official/administrative languages in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government. PAS(CS) replied that whilst agreement officers were given an avenue to apply for transfer to local P&P terms, such transfer was not guaranteed as a matter of course. Neither were the criteria for transfer a condition of service. The management had discretion to set the criteria for transfer to meet its operational needs. In this regard, a Chinese language requirement was considered essential to achieving the Government's long-term policy objective to develop a civil service which was biliterate and trilingual. The current arrangements allowed for flexibility in the setting and application of this Chinese language requirement. Agreement officers who failed in their applications for transfer on account of failing the language requirement could continue to serve on agreement terms provided that they fulfilled the criteria for renewal of agreements. She added that the legal challenge brought by the AECS had resulted in delay for years in the implementation of the necessary measures, and the uncertainties surrounding transfer to P&P terms had caused tremendous anxieties among both staff and management. Now that a court judgment was available, the Administration was obliged to give effect to the judgment as soon as possible. The announcement of the transfer arrangements were generally well received by management and the majority of staff.

6.The Chairman pointed out that it was a consensus view of the Panel on Public Service of the former Legislative Council that officers on local P&P terms should fulfil a prescribed level of Chinese language proficiency, in addition to English. Mrs Elsie TU considered that it was reasonable to require officers on transfer to local P&P terms to be proficient in the Chinese language. The new arrangements were acceptable, provided that officers would not lose their jobs for failing the language requirement. She added that she felt the language requirement was not set at a high standard and therefore it should not be difficult for overseas officers to achieve the required level of proficiency.

7.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat enquired about whether a Chinese language requirement would need to be satisfied in considering promotion of an officer. PAS(CS) replied that suitability for promotion was determined on the basis of merits, performance and experience as reviewed by a Promotion Board. Language proficiency was seldom singled out as a prerequisite but would be taken into account as the Promotion Board deliberated on the relative claims of the officers for positions at the higher rank. She added that to be consistent with the policy objective on bilingualism, an appointment requirement had been introduced since August 1995 for all new recruits on local P&P terms to be proficient in the Chinese language, in addition to English. IV. Review Board on representations relating to appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants (PLC Paper CB(2) 754(01))

8.PAS(CS) highlighted the major issues set out in the PLC Paper on Government's proposals to set up a Review Board under section 20(2) of the Public Service (Administration) Order 1997 (the Order). This section provided that "the Chief Executive may appoint a Review Board to advise him on such representations addressed to him relating to appointment, dismissal and discipline of public servants as he thinks fit". The paper also elaborated on the proposed mechanism to refer representations to the Board and the Board's composition.

9.In reply to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's enquiries, PAS(CS) said that under existing appeal procedures, representations made by civil servants against decisions made by a public officer other than the Chief Executive (CE) and the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) - such as decisions made by Heads of Department - were considered and acted upon by the Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS), or further dealt with by the CS, under delegated authority. The CE retained authority to act and decide on representations against decisions made by the CS or by himself personally. Due regard would be given to these existing procedures in devising the operation of the Review Board which was to advise on some of these representations. PAS(CS) said that since the transfer of sovereignty, there had been a total of seven representations made to the CE. She undertook to inform members of the nature of these representations after consulting the CE's Office. As regards representations made before 1 July 1997, PAS(CS) advised that all the cases had been concluded by the former Government and, accordingly, the case files had been destroyed.Adm

10.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat said that before 1 July 1997, the legal authority for the administration of the civil service was clearly provided for in the now lapsed Letters Patent (LP) and Colonial Regulations (CRs), which constituted imperial legislation made under the Royal Prerogative. The former Governors exercized the power vested in them under the LP and CRs to administer the civil service. Mr WONG doubted that, with the transfer of sovereignty, the powers given to the CE under an executive order made in accordance with Article 48(4) of the Basic Law (BL) could be used to replace the former legal authority under the LP and CRs. He also doubted if the CE's authority to appoint or remove civil servants under the Order was consistent with BL 48(7) which provided for appointment and removal of officers "in accordance with legal procedures". Accordingly, the viability of section 20(2) of the Order was questionable. He opined that the option of a public service legislation should be considered.

11.PAS(CS) said that legal advice sought by the Government was that the making of an executive order by the CE under BL 48(4) to replace the relevant provisions in LP and CRs on the administration of the civil service was legally in order and consistent with the long-established system in which the Administration retained prerogative power to manage the civil service. Enactment of public service legislation would have been a departure from the existing system. She added that the Order was issued by the Chief Executive on the advice of the Executive Council and there was therefore no question of the CE prescribing the provisions therein on his own.

12.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat said that BL 48(4) empowered the CE to issue executive orders without limiting the scope of such orders. He also queried whether the CE's executive orders could be taken as sufficient to satisfy the condition of "in accordance with legal procedures" under BL 48(7). He believed "in accordance with legal procedures" would require enactment of legislation. He was concerned that if this particular Order was to be regarded as "legal procedures", it would be tantamount to a piece of law, meaning that executive orders issued by the CE could become a source of legislative power, apart from the legislature, which would be subject to potential challenge.

13. In response, SCS said that there could be different interpretations of the provisions of the BL. The Order and the present proposed arrangements as regards the framework of the Review Board were, according to legal advice, in compliance with the BL. He emphasized the need for effective management of the civil service and the desirability of having the Review Board mechanism established as soon as possible. In this connection, PAS(CS) added that, according to legal advice, the reference in BL 48(7) to "legal procedures" did not mean that the procedures had to be prescribed by ordinance. She informed members that the Administration would consult the Staff Sides of the four Central Consultative Councils shortly with a view to implementing the proposals in 1998.

14.The Chairman and Mr LEE Kai-ming pointed out that the Panel on Public Service of the former Legislative Council agreed that there was an urgent need to implement measures to provide for continuation of the legal authority for the administration of the civil service after 1 July 1997, which included matters relating to appointment, dismissal and discipline of civil servants as well as provision of appeal channels whose processes should end ultimately in the HKSAR. They found that the arrangements regarding the proposed Review Board acceptable from the policy point of view. As to the points raised by Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat, the Chairman suggested that the issues be studied jointly by the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services and Panel on Constitutional Affairs, if necessary.AJLS Panel &CA Panel

V. Review of organization of the Protocol Division
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 754(02))

15.Deputy Director of Administration (DD/A) briefed members on the above PLC Paper, which set out in detail the findings of a review of the organization and staffing level of the Protocol Division (PD). The review provided recommendations and justifications for increasing the staff complement of the PD, in view of the scope and complexity of the Division's work which had grown tremendously since its establishment was last reviewed in 1987, and particularly since the reunification.

16.Some members were concerned that part of the increased workload of the PD might only be of temporary nature prompted by a number of major events which took place in Hong Kong in 1997, such as the handover ceremonies and the holding of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Conference. They also took the view that work relating to advising on protocol arrangements and etiquette, administration of honours and awards system and management of the Government VIP Lounge at the airport etc. should not be vastly different from what the PD had been undertaking immediately before the handover. In addition, the New China News Agency, Hong Kong Branch and the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would offer assistance on specific matters where necessary.

17.DD/A and Director of Protocol (D/P) responded that the PD had taken up a range of new duties and responsibilities since the reunification which resulted in an upsurge in the workload of the Division. For example, there were no state visits to Hong Kong before the transfer of sovereignty, i.e. visits by Heads of State or Heads of Government as part of their state visit programmes to China. There were only working or private visits of foreign dignitaries which were primarily co-ordinated by the respective Consulates in Hong Kong. After the reunification, the PD had to take on the leading role in planning and implementation of the part of the programme for which the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) was responsible. Such visits usually involved large-scale delegations (often exceeding 50 visitors) and the reception arrangements for which had to be pitched at the appropriate state level. This called for a significant amount of work and manpower in programme planning, co-ordination and delivery.

18.As regards VIP facilities at the airport. D/P pointed out that the VIP Lounge at Kai Tak Airport was currently operated and managed by the Civil Aviation Department. With the impending opening of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, the Government VIP Lounge at the new airport would be run by the Hong Kong Airport Authority on behalf of the Government. The new VIP Lounge, which would be capable of accommodating a much larger number of VIPs at a time, would be in operation for 24 hours a day. Under the new arrangement, the PD would be heavily involved in specifying the requirements of running the VIP Lounge as well as monitoring the standard and cost-effectiveness of the VIP service provided by the Hong Kong Airport Authority. D/P added that the projected annual increase of about 5% in the number of VIP parties serviced at the Government VIP Lounge was based on the figures in the years 1994 to 1996. The corresponding figure in 1997, which was considered not a typical year appropriate for making comparison, had not been taken into account in the analysis.

19.Regarding processing of honours and awards, DD/A advised that the system prevailing before the reunification could no longer be adopted. The PD had to develop and administer a new honours and awards system for the HKSAR, whereas previously ours was just part of the British System. Details of the new system would be announced soon. In addition, the PD was also in the course of formulating a new set of protocol and ceremonial arrangements appropriate to the HKSAR.

20.The Chairman enquired about the rationale for the proposed expansion of the establishment of the PD, which represented a major increase in the high ranks (from three to 10 at Protocol Officer level or above). Members enquired whether it would be a feasible option to create supernumerary posts to cope with the immediate increase in workload, pending a further review at a later stage. Members opined that seconding arrangements could also be resorted to wherever possible. DD/A replied that the alternative of creation of supernumerary posts had been examined in the review. As a result, the review recommended the creation of a supernumerary Deputy Director of Protocol post, the continued need for which would be examined again in three years. Given the growing functions and new tasks being taken up by the PD, the Administration found it necessary to create new posts on a permanent establishment basis. He pointed out that whilst the strengthening of staff complement was required to deal with the workload related to the Division's core, day-to-day operation, redeployment/seconding arrangements within the civil service would still be required as and when necessary, in particular where activities of a large-scale took place.

21.DD/A further explained that the creation of a relatively greater number of posts at the more senior level was necessary, in view of the growing level and complexity of the work of the PD. As a matter of fact, to meet operational needs, four Executive Officers had been made on loan to PD for months. This would relieve the Director of Protocol of much of the front-end tasks which had been generating considerable claims on his/her time. The creation of a Deputy Director of Protocol post, for example, would enable an officer of sufficient seniority to deputize for the Director, where necessary, in performing representational duties and undertake other specialized functions which would not otherwise be feasible under the present establishment structure.

22.Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat agreed that the PD had been overburdened with work and supported the Administration's proposal to regularize the present redeployment arrangement with the creation of non-directorate posts and strengthen the directorate structure of the Division. He further commented that the roles and responsibilities of the Director of Protocol justified a high ranking for the post, which should be pitched at the level of D2 or above on the Directorate Pay Scale.

23.Mr Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen said that state visits had become more frequent nowadays. He enquired whether the staffing position of PD included officers who could speak fluent languages other than Cantonese, Putonghua and English so that they could act as interpreters while receiving visiting dignitaries from other foreign countries. The Administration replied that whilst there was not an absolute need for full-time interpreters in the PD, it was the established practice that highly skilled interpreters would be engaged to provide interpretation service in state visits or visits by dignitaries. Very often, interpreters had also been provided by the Consulates concerned in Hong Kong. The Administration added that insofar as language training was concerned, facilities were available for civil servants to develop proficiency in languages other than Chinese and English.

24.The Chairman concluded that the purpose of deliberation by the Panel was for the Administration to take note of members�views on the subject. It would not be appropriate for the Panel to resolve whether the establishment increase proposals should be supported or otherwise before they were submitted to the Establishment Subcommittee and the Finance Committee for approval.

VI.Close of meeting

25.The meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
19 January 1998