on 9 June 1999
ITEM FOR ESTABLISHMENT SUBCOMMITTEE OF FINANCE COMMITTEE
HEAD 48 - GOVERNMENT LABORATORY
Subhead 001 Salaries
Members are invited to recommend to Finance Committee the creation of the following permanent directorate post in the Government Laboratory -
1 Chief Chemist
(D1) ($98,250 - $104,250)
The Health Science and Commodities Testing Services (HSCTS) Group of the Government Laboratory (GL) is in need of a dedicated officer at directorate level to plan, supervise and co-ordinate all analytical and advisory services for the protection of public health and safety.
2. We propose to create one permanent post of Chief Chemist (D1) to head the HSCTS Group of the Analytical and Advisory Services (A&AS) Division.
3. The major functions of the A&AS Division are to support government initiatives to safeguard public health and safety through the regular testing of foods and pharmaceuticals; to evaluate consumer goods safety; to conduct environmental protection analyses; and to provide assistance in various scientific investigations.
4. The Assistant Government Chemist (AGC) (D2) heads the A&AS Division which comprises 45 professional chemists and 147 technical and supporting staff. The Division is organised into two functional groups, namely, the HSCTS Group and the Environmental Chemistry and Other Scientific Services (ECOSS) Group. Presently the AGC(A&AS) supervises the HSCTS Group directly and is underpinned by a Chief Chemist in the supervision of the ECOSS Group.
5. The HSCTS Group consists of four specialist sections, namely, Food Science Section, Pharmaceutical Chemistry Section, Chinese Medicines Section, Smoking Product and Other Commodities Section. Their major functions are to perform statutory testing and corresponding analyses for the protection of public health and consumer safety. These include the analysis of food products, the examination of western and Chinese medicines and testing of consumer goods.
6. On food and drug safety issues, the HSCTS Group has been facing increasing challenges which demand considerable professional input and direction from the senior management. At present, most of the problems are handled directly by AGC(A&AS) who supervises the four specialist sections in the HSCTS Group. It has come to a point that he will easily become the bottleneck at the senior management level.
7. The Division requires additional capacity at the senior management level to deal with the problem by bringing in new methods and procedures so that the HSCTS Group and the Division as well could discharge their daily duties in a more efficient and strategic way. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the Group to cope with the increasing challenges.
Increase in the volume
8. Since 1994, the workload in the areas of food products, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods has grown by 28%, 48% and 130% respectively. Staffing of the HSCTS Group has grown from 66 to 89 including the establishment of a new Chinese Medicines Section in October 1998.
9. In the coming years, we anticipate a 20% and 40% increase in the respective workload of food monitoring activities and quality control of pharmaceuticals as a result of enhanced drives by the Department of Health to strengthen food and drug safety, and the regulation of traditional Chinese medicine. The situation will be complicated by the need to develop fast screening methods to forewarn food contamination problems. Simply adding new staff to absorb the increasing workload is not sufficient. The Group has to conduct an overall review of its operation to actively seek broader improvement opportunities. Instead of solely relying on the AGC(A&AS), the proposed Chief Chemist has a substantial role to play in these respects.
Striving for higher operational efficiency
10. So far GL has striven to cope with the increasing workload through more efficient deployment of resources. The unit costs of analyses conducted by the HSCTS Group are maintained at a reasonably steady rate over the past five years 1 despite the impact of inflation and the implicit costs required to raise the operational standards of laboratory in compliance with international standards.
11. Into the future, it is becoming harder to control the costs for certain analyses due to the immense diversity and complexity of the testing required. To meet the challenges, productivity enhancement initiatives are required. The proposed Chief Chemist will initiate, evaluate and approve the adoption of new technology, alternative solutions and new quality assurance measures in the interest of cost-effectiveness.
Growing need for research and development to meet unique local requirements
12. There has been increasing demand for the HSCTS Group to develop solutions to tackle problems unique to the local setting. For example, there is no internationally accepted standard method for the analysis of clenbuterol in pork. The testing procedures developed by the Group have been adopted by the testing authorities in the Mainland to monitor pigs exported to Hong Kong. As a result, pigs imported from the Mainland are tested by procedures accepted by both Hong Kong and the Mainland authorities to ensure that they are basically free from clenbuterol .
13. To gain maximum benefit from the research projects, involvement of senior officers with adequate exposure and professional knowledge is essential. The Chief Chemist will be involved in identifying useful and promising projects, providing guidance, evaluating outcomes and assigning expertise required for the crucial research activities. He will secure support from the academics and concerned officials, local and overseas.
More responsive use of manpower and equipment in handling emergencies
14. The Group has to accord topmost priority to provide urgent support to client departments during emergencies, such as the cyanide spill incident at Tai Po Road. Since all these situations can seriously affect public health and demand immediate responses, urgent testing of non-conventional samples with immediate results are required. Recent experience has found that a high degree involvement of senior management is essential in mobilizing and coordinating resources and adjusting the priority of different activities. This ensures that emergencies are handled immediately, that other planned functions are carried out without unacceptable delay and that promised performance levels be restored as soon as possible after the emergencies. The proposed Chief Chemist is best placed to perform this role when the situation warrants.
Closer liaison with local and overseas authorities
15. With a view to formulating the best strategies of service provision, GL needs to maintain close liaison with other government departments and officials in the Mainland. Frequent contacts with overseas laboratories and research institutes are also required in order to keep GL staff abreast of the rapid development in chemical testing technology.
16. Close cooperation with testing authorities in countries exporting to Hong Kong helps to reduce the need for intensive testing of imported products through harmonisation of testing methods and quality standards. For example, the main thrust of collaboration with the Mainland authorities this year is the analysis of Chinese medicines. The Group aims to arrive at some consensus on methodology and safety standards. This will help to ensure the quality of imported Chinese medicines and reduce the need for comprehensive testing without compromising safety. At present, AGC(A&AS) has taken up most of the liaison work in respect of the functions of the Group. The proposed Chief Chemist would be able to share a considerable amount of this work.
Increasing demand for professional advice
17. The A&AS Division has been increasingly involved in policy formulation and law drafting by giving professional advice on chemistry-related issues. Some examples are the drafting of the Chinese Medicine Bill, the analysis of in pork and pig offal, dangerous goods classification and transportation, and Environment Impact Assessment and Red Tide Monitoring. In light of government's increasing reliance on scientific data to formulate strategies and facilitate decision making, this trend will persist. The proposed Chief Chemist would represent GL and advise on the areas under his purview.
The Need for a Chief Chemist
18. All the challenges described above require professional input and direction at senior management level. At present, as AGC(A&AS) directly supervises all functional sections of the HSCTS Group, he has to meet all the above challenges almost single-handedly and yet his responsibilities are so wide. These range from the day-to-day operation of the HSCTS Group, supervision of the ECOSS Group, liaison with Mainland authorities and client departments at Group level and Division level, to the management of large scale and complicated projects undertaken by the A&AS Division. The number of emergency cases in recent years, which have called for more intensive laboratory support, have placed him under even more pressure.
19. To alleviate the situation, AGC(A&AS) has to assign a Senior Chemist in the HSCTS Group to assume part of the Group Head's responsibilities. However, the practice is not entirely satisfactorily as the Senior Chemist concerned also has functional duties relating to his own section. It is difficult for him to spare enough time for the administrative duties of the Group. He also lacks substantial authority over his counterparts of the same rank. All critical decisions, administrative and technological alike, still fall on the AGC(A&AS).
20. We propose to create a Chief Chemist post to lead the HSCTS Group. He will plan and supervise his Group so that the service pledges are duly met. He will also be responsible for the allocation of manpower and equipment within the Group. He will oversee reviews of productivity enhancement initiatives, lead scientific research and development work and facilitate cross-sectional exchange of innovation and information on quality control practices. He will represent GL in the liaison with other departments and counterparts in the Mainland in respect of his duty areas as and when required. Since he has to lead the four sections in the HSCTS Group which are headed by Senior Chemists and in view that his responsibilities are professionally demanding, it is considered that post should be pitched at Chief Chemist level.
21. The job description of the proposed Chief Chemist post is at Enclosure 1. The organisation charts of the HSCTS Group and the A&AS Division are at Enclosure 2 and 3 respectively.
Encls. 2 &3
22. The additional notional annual salary cost of this proposal at mid-point is $1,213,200. The full annual average staff cost of the proposal including salaries and staff on-costs is $2,113,908.
23. To provide adequate analytic support to various surveillance programmes on public health and the regulation of traditional Chinese medicine, the GL would require 27 additional non-directorate staff to strengthen the HSCTS Group. The total notional annual mid-point salary cost of these posts is $10,655,520. We have included sufficient provision in the 1999-2000 Estimates to meet the cost of the proposed Chief Chemist post and these non-directorate posts.
24. GL is organised into two Divisions, namely, the A&AS Division (as covered in this paper) which provides analytical services relating to food and public health matters; and the Forensic Science Division which provides specialist scientific services to government departments dealing with law and order, such as analysis of illicit drugs in cases of unlawful trafficking and manufacturing.
CIVIL SERVICE BUREAU COMMENTS
25. The Department has considered carefully alternative means to provide the appropriate level of service, bearing in mind the need for efficiency and productivity, and considers that the present proposal is the most appropriate way to proceed. Having regard to the reasons put forward, Civil Service Bureau considers the proposal justified and the grading and ranking appropriate.
ADVICE OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON DIRECTORATE SALARIES AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
26. The Standing Committee on Directorate Salaries and Conditions of Service has advised that the proposal is appropriate.
Health and Welfare Bureau
Enclosure 1 to EC(1999-2000)13
Duty list of the Proposed Chief Chemist Post for the
Health Science and Commodities Testing Services (HSCTS) Group
1. To assist the Assistant Government Chemist (Analytical and Advisory Services (A&AS)) in the day-to-day operation of the HSCTS Group.
2. To supervise the specialist work of four Senior Chemists and to ensure the provision of efficient and effective laboratory services to clients through training, periodic inspection, continuous review of performance and introduction of new initiatives as necessary in all activities of the Group.
3. To recommend to the Assistant Government Chemist (A&AS) on, and advise and assist in, the development and formulation of objectives and policies in relation to the scientific disciplines that come within the ambit of the HSCTS Group.
4. To be responsible for administrative planning, financial control and monitoring and control of supplies activities within the HSCTS Group.
5. To advise professional staff on complex issues and complaints arising in connection with their analytical duties, and on the most appropriate technology to employ.
6. To organise and lead the scientific research and development work of the Group and to plan and develop projects to meet the clients special needs.
7. To oversee the implementation of committed quality assurance programmes and environmental management systems with third party certification by various agencies, such as the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency and the Hong Kong Accreditation Services.
8. To liaise with client departments and the Mainland authorities on work programmes, scientific information, and technical exchanges relating to laboratory services.
9. To be responsible for the management of staff seconded to other departments, including posting and transfer, career developments and provision of technical guidance as necessary.
10. To represent the Laboratory as spokesman for activities undertaken by the HSCTS Group and at Committee Meetings.
Enclosure 2 to EC(1999-2000)13
Proposed Organisation Chart of the HSCST Group, Government Laboratory Government Chemist
Enclosure 3 to EC(1999-2000)13
Organisation Chart of Analytical & Advisory Services Division
1 The "Cost per test" (at the price level of the respective year) for food, pharmaceutics and consumer goods from 1994 to 1998 are as follows -
|Cost per Test||1994||1995||1996||1997||1998