Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1462
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Public Service

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 23 March 1998 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

Members absent :

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

Public officers attending :

Secretary for the Civil Service

Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 3

Mrs Marion LAI
Commissioner for Official Languages

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 Papers No. CB(2) 1190 and CB(2) 1253)

The minutes of the meetings held on 26 January 1998 and 11 February 1998 respectively were confirmed.

II. Draft Report of the Panel on Public Service for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1252(01))

2. The Chairman took members through the gists of the draft Report, which gave an account of the work of the Panel on Public Service during the term of the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC). Members endorsed the draft Report.

3. The Chairman informed members that the Report would be tabled at the meeting of the PLC on 8 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council.

III. Update on the use of Chinese in the civil service
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1252(02))

4. Commissioner for Official Languages (COL) briefed members on the progress and developments of the Government's efforts in promoting the wider use of Chinese in the civil service. She said that the long-term objective of the language policy was to develop a civil service which was biliterate and trilingual, i.e. a civil service which was able to communicate effectively in both Chinese and English and generally fluent in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. In trying to achieve this end, the Administration was implementing practical measures to encourage bureaux and departments to promote wider use of Chinese in official business in a progressive and systematic manner, having regard to their own mode of operation and nature of service. In this regard, the Official Languages Agency (OLA) and the Civil Service Training and Development Institute offered valuable services in developing a favaurable environment and framework which were conducive to the wider use of Chinese. Such measures included setting guidelines and standards for official writing in Chinese, providing support services and facilities and writing aids, strengthening liaison with bureaux/departments and grades to monitor the progress on the use of Chinese, and the provision of enhanced language training programmes for staff etc. COL stressed that in its drive to promote the use of Chinese, the Government had not lost sight of the need to ensure that there would not be a decline in the English language proficiency of civil servants.

5. Referring to the three-year project to provide Chinese word processing (CWP) training for secretarial, clerical and executive grade staff, COL said that by March 1999, all staff of the executive and secretarial grades, and about 60% of the clerical grade staff, would have received CWP training. This had already exceeded the original target set for the project when it was launched in April 1996. The rate of 60% achieved for clerical staff should meet operational requirements, according to consultation undertaken by the General Grades Office with various bureaux/departments. It was also in line with the objective to develop a multi-skilled clerical grade in the civil service. COL said that where circumstances justified, additional resources might be sought to enable a greater number of civil servants to be trained in CWP.

6. On the provision of telephone enquiry service, COL advised that since the service was set up around a year ago in the OLA, it had received an average of about 30 telephone enquiries a month seeking advice on the use of Chinese in official business. She said that where individual bureaux/departments had Chinese Language Officers (CLOs) in their establishments, staff of the bureaux/departments concerned should seek first-hand advice from their CLOs rather than enquiring at the OLA. The CLOs responsible for answering telephone enquiries also took up other duties in the OLA. COL considered that the present usage rate of the OLA's telephone service was satisfactory.

7. COL further pointed out that over time CLOs had assumed a strengthened and diversified role in promoting the use of Chinese in the civil service. In addition to those traditional duties of providing translation and interpretation services, CLOs advised on the usage of Chinese and vetted Chinese drafts prepared by civil servants. They also participated actively in working groups set up in bureaux/departments to co-ordinate and monitor efforts in promoting the use of Chinese. Starting from January 1998, OLA had launched a pilot outreach task force programme led by experienced CLOs to help bureaux/departments develop strategies on wider use of Chinese which best suited their own needs and circumstances. This task force programme intended to cover five bureaux/departments in 1998. Subject to operational need and resource availability, the programme might be expanded to provide support to more bureaux/departments.

8. Noting that nine departments which had regular contact with the public had taken part in a pilot scheme in 1996 to promote the use of Chinese in the departments, members asked why the Police Force and the hospitals under the Hospital Authority were not included. COL replied that prior to the launching of the pilot outreach task force programme in bureaux and departments, a similar exercise had in fact been carried out within the Police Force in which CLOs were deployed to a police station and an office in the Police Headquarters to provide guidance on widening the use of Chinese in their daily work. She said that although there were areas where the use of Chinese could be wider within the Force, e.g. in internal communication, there had been no major problems in police officers dealing with the public in Chinese in the course of carrying out their duties. She added that the Force's management was actively encouraging its staff to use more Chinese, and OLA was prepared to provide assistance as and when required. Concerning the hospitals, COL advised that as the ambit of OLA did not cover public bodies and statutory organizations outside the civil service, no direct services from OLA had been rendered. She said that the problem with the medical field laid mainly in professional staff such as doctors and nurses who might experience difficulties in expressing terminologies for certain diseases or treatments in Chinese, in view of the fact that most of them were trained in the English language.

9. Commenting on the recent cases where wrong medicine had been doled out to patients in some hospitals, Mrs Elsie TU considered that proper training must be provided to hospital staff to ensure that they fully understood the medical terms labelled on the medicine. Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS) replied that rather than a language issue, the cause for such incidents was related to inadequacies in the monitoring of the drug dispensing system. The remedy therefore laid in the improvement of the drug dispensing process itself. He stressed that all drug dispensers in hospitals must be qualified and fully trained.

10. Mr CHAN Wing-chan enquired whether candidates with a higher proficiency in Chinese than the minimum standard required for the job would stand a better chance in civil service recruitment exercises. SCS explained that language proficiency was not the only selection criterion in civil service appointments. Other factors such as the applicant's qualifications and experience and his/her performance in the selection exercise etc. would also be taken into account. Yet, an applicant had to fulfil the basic language requirement of a post before his/her application could be considered.

11. Mr CHAN Wing-chan expressed the view that in the past the community had attached too much importance in the English language and the use of English as the medium of instruction in schools. Now that the Government was advocating the policy of widening the use of Chinese in the civil service, it might help resolve much of the controversies surrounding the issue of mother tongue teaching if the Government could send a clear message that a good command of Chinese language would contribute to a brighter future for the younger generation. SCS responded that biliteracy and trilingualism in the civil service was consistent with Hong Kong's education policy and the long-term needs of the community. Since August 1995, the Government had introduced an arrangement whereby new recruits appointed on local permanent and pensionable terms had to meet requirements in respect of the Chinese and English languages stipulated for the posts. These basic language requirements for appointment would be regularly reviewed in the light of circumstances. He emphasized that both Chinese and English were of equal importance in the civil service.

12. Mr Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen considered that the set of 18 English-Chinese Glossaries of Terms Commonly Used in Government Departments compiled by OLA to standardize the terms used in official documents was an extremely useful reference material. He said that OLA should make available free copies of the Glossaries to members of the three tiers of representative government and those bodies and organizations which had frequent contact with the public. COL took note of Mr LAU's suggestion. She added that complimentary copies of the Glossaries had been provided to major public bodies and statutory organizations. The Glossaries were also available for sale at the Government Publications Centres.

13. In reply to the Chairman's question, COL said that to facilitate the use of Chinese in official business, OLA was making arrangements for important Government Regulations and Circulars to be translated in Chinese. The translated versions were currently under vetting and they would be available for use by mid-1998.

IV. Review of qualification benchmarks system
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1252(03))

14. Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2 (DS(CS)2) highlighted the background to and rationale for conducting a review of qualification benchmarks in the civil service.

15. DS(CS)2 pointed out that the Government's pay policy was to offer remuneration which should be sufficient to attract, retain and motivate staff of a suitable calibre to provide the public with an effective and efficient service. Such remuneration should also be broadly comparable with private sector practice. Given the fact that some public sector jobs had no equivalents in the private sector and in order to ensure comparability, the Government had adopted an education qualification method whereby all civil service grades were grouped on the basis of qualifications required for appointment. The starting pay for entry ranks in each qualification group was then set by reference to the remuneration of private sector jobs having similar appointment qualifications and performing similar functions as the entry ranks in that qualification group. This approach of establishing benchmark pay for each qualification group, which enabled the Government to cover as many jobs as possible in the public sector, had been in use since 1979 and reviewed in 1989. In view of the developments which had taken place since the last review, the Government intended to invite the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service to commence another review in 1998/99 with a view to assessing whether the method was still the most appropriate means to compare public and private sector jobs.

16. Mr LEE Kai-ming pointed out that because of the rapid developments which had occurred in the society over time, a number of serving or newly recruited civil servants nowadays had acquired educational standards which exceeded the entry qualification requirements for their jobs. Mr LEE enquired whether the entry requirements and the pay scales of such grades/ranks would be suitably adjusted to reflect the changing circumstances.

17. In response, DS(CS)2 said that under existing mechanisms, where individual departments regarded that the entry requirements for a particular grade should be changed, the department concerned could provide justifications for the proposed changes for the consideration of the Administration. Subject to the advice of the appropriate Advisory Committee, the entry pay point of the grade might be changed. In such cases, the revised starting pay would only affect those officers recruited on the new appointment criteria. An across-the-board pay adjustments for existing officers would not come into the picture. Depending on justifiable circumstances, civil servants acquiring new relevant skills could be rewarded. DS(CS)2 added that the Administration had found that educational qualifications were still the best available yardsticks for setting the starting pay for entry ranks in each qualification group. He said that the result of the current qualification benchmark review would shed light on whether any changes to the existing entry pay points were required, having regard to private sector practice.

18. Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat expressed the view that the educational qualification method was not the most appropriate means for setting civil service pay, particularly with regard to grades such as the disciplined services for which educational qualifications were not the sole determinant factor for pay determination. The grade by grade analysis approach would be a preferred option. Mr WONG said that rather than relying on educational benchmarks, an effective means to assess whether the pay for a civil service job was appropriate was to find the "market pay" for the job, i.e. the level of pay that was sufficient to attract and retain people from the private sector possessing the required level of qualifications, skills and experience. For some public sector jobs whose nature of work was unique and which had no equivalents in the private sector, a higher pay might have to be offered in order to attract persons of suitable calibre. In such cases, educational qualifications might be far from being the prime consideration in the matter of pay determination.

19. DS(CS)2 replied that the Administration did look in detail at other alternative methods of fixing civil service pay and linking civil service and private sector pay in the last review in 1989. The main problem with the grade by grade factor analysis method, despite its advantage of being able to produce precise pay indicates for individual grades by identifying the external relativities of each civil service grade, was that it lacked flexibility and would be extremely time-consuming to implement, given the size of the civil service. As regards the core grade approach, on the other hand, the difficulties lied in the absence of immediate private sector equivalents with which some core grades in the civil service, such as the disciplined services, could be suitably compared. Also, there was the problem of internal relativities in defining core grades in the civil service for the purpose of linking groups of grades according to set criteria. On the whole, the educational qualification method was considered the best method in that it was in step with private sector practice and the community had accepted it as being reasonable. The method also provided the flexibility to cover as many grades as possible which might not be directly comparable to those in the private sector, and made it possible to establish appropriate relativities for different grades in the civil service.

20. DS(CS)2 further emphasized that while academic qualification was an important factor in recruitment and pay setting, the Administration had also taken into account other aspects such as a person's skills and experience as well as other physical requirements peculiar to a job. On the matter of market pay for civil service jobs, factors such as wastage rates and problems encountered in recruitment exercises were reliable indicators of whether pay for particular civil service jobs were set at the right level. Where short-term recruitment difficulties arose, the Administration had the option of dealing with them through interim arrangements or short-term pay adjustments. DS(CS)2 concluded that the purpose of the qualification benchmarks review was not to look precisely at individual grades but to work on an appropriate system of job comparison and entry point pay settings for civil service jobs.

21. The Chairman and Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat enquired whether the Administration had drawn references from the experiences of overseas countries in devising civil service pay policy. DS(CS)2 repled that decisions on civil service pay and conditions of service varied among different systems of government and subject to different economic, social and political considerations. In many countries, such decisions were taken in the context of political objectives, or guided by other complex factors which were not of significant relevance to Hong Kong. Yet, he added that the Civil Service Bureau did maintain close contacts with its overseas counterparts and the Administration would give due consideration to practices in other countries in formulating its own mechanisms.

22. Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat opined that the present practice adopted by the Administration, with the stress on educational qualification and internal relativities, had failed to uphold the principle that civil service remuneration should remain broadly comparable with that in the private sector. He called for a comprehensive review to examine the possibility of a better system of job comparison and pay setting. The Administration noted his views.

V. Progress of review of the system for declaration of interests by civil servants

23. Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3 (DS(CS)3) gave a verbal report on the progress of the current review of the system for declaration of interests by civil servants. She said that as the guidelines on avoidance of conflicts of interest arising from civil servants's business connections or investments in and outside Hong Kong had been promulgated for some time since 1995/96, it was necessary to conduct an internal review of the declaration systems to assess their effectiveness. The current review aimed at examining the need for additional guidelines or improvement measures to enhance the alertness of civil servants at all levels on situations where potential conflicts of interest between their official duties and their private investments might arise, and assist department management in monitoring staff compliance of the necessary reporting requirements. The review was in the final stages and it was hoped that by May/June this year new directives could be issued including, among other things, arrangements regarding declaration of investment in respect of specific posts, having regard to the duties of such posts. DS(CS)3 added that the staff side would be adequately consulted on the outcome of the review when the review was completed. The Administration would report to the Panel on the result of consultation in due course. Adm

VI. Close of meeting

24. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:20 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
5 May 1998