thirdly, liaison with the media, political parties, LegCo Members and other key opinion-formers in the community would be strengthened, so that the Government could shape its policies in a manner which would accord more closely with public sentiments.
7. Mr LAM advised that the IC would be responsible for four main tasks, viz. setting the public relations and media strategy, feeling the pulse and monitoring the trend of public opinion, delivering the Government's messages and managing unforeseen events. Mr LAM highlighted in particular the role played by the IC in projecting the Government's messages. The IC would conduct regular background briefings for media organisations to enhance the media's appreciation of the Government's overall stance. These briefing sessions would also be used to explain the background of issues under consideration before specific proposals were formulated. Hopefully this would lay the groundwork for securing more complete public understanding of the Government's rationale when the policy was launched later.
8. Referring to the IC's role as the Chief Executive's Spokesperson, Mr LAM said that initially the Spokesperson session would be held once a week on Thursday or Friday. The Spokesperson sessions would be used to state the Government's position on matters of topical interest, to clarify specific issues and to respond to the media about any particular angles of interest, as well as to announce the Chief Executive's public engagements programme for the following week. In addition to acting as the Chief Executive's Spokesperson, the IC would coordinate the media and public relations strategy for handling major unforeseen events, so that there would be timely communication with the media and the public, and to ensure that a uniform position was taken by officials concerned.
9. Mr LAM further said that the Chief Executive's public appearances would not be reduced as a result of the creation of the IC post. The Chief Executive would continue to undertake an active and regular programme of public functions including speaking engagements, overseas visits, community visits, meetings with editors and correspondents and press conferences.
10. The Chairman thanked the Administration for briefing members on the proposal for the creation of the IC post. He then invited questions from members.
11. Noting that the Administration had appointed Mr LAM to the IC post prior to its creation, Mr Ronald ARCULLI asked whether this represented a new approach which the Administration would adopt in the future. Messrs CHEUNG Man-kwong, CHAN Kam-lam and LEE Kai-ming asked whether the Government had adopted the wrong strategy in announcing Mr LAM's appointment as the IC (Designate) before the post was created.
12. In response, SCS said that as the Posting Board had already decided on Mr LAM's appointment, it was considered necessary to announce the appointment as soon as possible to curb speculation by the media and within the civil service. SCS explained that the Government's announcement of Mr LAM's appointment before the proposal for the creation of the IC post was considered by the LegCo was not intended to pre-empt the LegCo' decision on the proposal. SCS pointed out that even if the proposal was rejected, there was no question of Mr LAM being made redundant as he would be redeployed within the civil service. SCS stressed that the announcement of Mr LAM's appointment prior to the post being considered by LegCo was an exceptional arrangement and not meant to set a precedent.
13. In reply to Mr Howard YOUNG, Mr LAM said that the Administration had not made an assessment on whether there had been an increase in workload in arranging overseas visits by the Chief Executive and other senior Government officials in the post-handover period. However, the Government would continue to undertake an active and regular overseas publicity programme to promote Hong Kong's image and to forestall and counter negative publicity in overseas countries.
14. Mr LAM further said that the scope of work of the IC in the Chief Executive's Office differed from that of the former IC in the pre-handover period. Prior to the handover, much of the media and public attention was focused on issues relating to the transition. However, after the handover, public attention had turned to a variety of economic, social, livelihood, legal and other issues. There was therefore a need to strengthen and coordinate the handling of media and public relations at a strategic level. Unlike the incumbents of the IC post established in the former Government House, the IC of the Chief Executive's Office would perform the role of the Government's Spokesperson at regular press sessions. In addition, the IC would liaise with political parties, LegCo Members and other key opinion-formers to gauge public opinion, thereby providing critical input to the Government to enable it to formulate policies which would be more in tune with public sentiment.
15. In reply to Mr YOUNG's further enquiry, SCS confirmed that the two Personal Advisers recruited from the United Kingdom during the tenure of the former Governor occupied established posts in the former Government House.
16. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was not convinced that the IC post should be pitched at D8 level, given that the IC would not have to formulate policies or legislative proposals nor would he be required to secure funding for their implementation. In response SCS said that the complexity and level of responsibility undertaken by the IC was commensurate with that of a Bureau Secretary, having regard to the strategic role the IC had to play in formulating the media and public relations strategy for handling major unforeseen events and announcing major issues or policies, as well as in developing a uniform and cooordiated set of Government positions within a tight timeframe. SCS pointed out that the posts of Head of the Central Policy Unit, Director of Beijing Office and Judiciary Administrator were also ranked at D8 even though the incumbents of the posts did not have to undertake policy formulation responsibilities.
17. In reply to Mr TSANG Yok-shing, SCS said that the Government's thinking from the outset was that the IC post should be pitched at a higher level than that of the former Information Coordinator, which was ranked at D4. SCS reiterated that Mr LAM accepted the appointment without knowledge of the proposed ranking for the post and that Mr LAM played no part in the Administration's decision on the post's ranking.
18. Mr CHAN Wing-chan said that proposal for the creation of the IC post should have been made earlier, and asked whether this reflected the Administration's lack of foresight and crisis management ability. In response, SCS said that the Government reviewed its performance on an on-going basis and that the proposal was one of the Government's initiatives to improve its performance and public profile. In hindsight, SCS agreed that the proposal could have been submitted earlier.
19. In reply to Mr Ronald ARCULLI's enquiry as to how the IC would handle major unforeseen events or major issues of public concern, Mr LAM said that in the case of a major unforeseen event occurring, the IC would make an immediate assessment of the situation and develop a uniform set of Government positions and lines-to-take, so that there would be timely communication with the media and the public. Whether the IC or the relevant Bureau Secretary would act as the spokesman would depend on the circumstances of the event in question. In handling major issues which affected the community as a whole, such as the Government's intervention in the stock market in August this year, the IC would coordinate the development of a long-term and comprehensive public relations strategy in advance for deployment at the appropriate time, so as to enable the officials concerned to take a uniform stance in presenting the Government's position.
20. In response to Mr Ronald ARCULLI's further enquiry, Mr LAM said that the IC would attend ExCo meetings to advise on the media and public relations aspects of issues considered by ExCo. Depending on the nature of the issue, the Chief Executive, the Chief Secretary for Administration or the Financial Secretary would continue to make announcement for the Government after ExCo meetings. If considered appropriate for the occasion the IC could, in his role as the Government's Spokesperson, conduct press briefings after ExCo meetings.
21. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that the IC post should be subject to the nationality restriction laid down in Article 101 of the Basic Law, given that the IC post was pitched at D8 level and that the IC was the Spokesperson in the Chief Executive's Office. In response, SCS said that the Head of the Central Policy Unit, the Judiciary Administrator and the Director of the Beijing Office, who carried no policy formulation responsibilities, were not subject to the nationality restriction set out in the Basic Law. The Administration did not therefore see the need to apply such restriction to the IC post.
22. Mr LEE Kai-ming said that the Administration's explanation for announcing the appointment of Mr LAM in advance of the creation of the IC post was not convincing. He cited the case of the post of the Director of Beijing Office where the Government followed the established practice in consulting the relevant Panels before submitting the request for the creation of the post to the Finance Committee for consideration in March. The Government did not announce the appointment until October this year, although there was much media speculation about who would be appointed to take up the post. He asked why the practice was not followed on this occasion.
23. In response, SCS explained that the reason why the Administration had not consulted the relevant Panel was because the policy aspects of the IC's responsibilities did not fall within the purview of any of the existing Panels. He added that the Administration would continue to follow the practice of consulting the relevant Panels on major legislative or financial proposals before they were presented to LegCo.
24. Miss Emily LAU said that it was unusual that the Government announced the appointment of Mr LAM to a post yet to be created, and then asked him to draw up the job description of the post concerned and appear in person at the meeting to explain the justification for the post. She asked whether such an arrangement would give rise to a conflict of interest situation. In response, SCS reiterated that Mr LAM took no part in the determination of the ranking of the IC post and that the reason for asking Mr LAM to draw up the job description was due to the fact that no Policy Bureau was responsible for the policy aspects of the IC's responsibilities.
25. In reply to Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, SCS explained that the role of the IC was to coordinate media and public relations strategy rather than coordinating the formulation of Government policies. The Chief Secretary for Administration's role in the coordination of the formulation and implementation of policies would certainly not be affected as a result of the creation of the IC post.
26. Mrs Selina CHOW said that she supported the Government's approach to seek the views of LegCo Members and key opinion-formers in the community in drawing up the job description of the IC post. She expressed the hope that with the creation of the IC post, the Government's communication with the media and the public would be made more transparent and open.
27. In reply to Miss Emily LAU's enquiry about the organisational structure depicted in Enclosure 1 to the paper outlining the relationship between the IC and the Information Services Department (ISD), SCS explained that with the IC and the Director of Information Services (DIS) designated as Spokesperson and Deputy Spokesperson, the IC's Office and ISD would function as one team. The IC would be responsible to the Chief Executive for providing strategic public relations advice to the Government. The DIS, who was responsible to the Chief Secretary for Administration for the day-to-day operation of ISD, would manage the operational and implementional aspects of media and public relations services.
28. Miss Emily LAU was of the view that the two additional duties of the IC described in paragraph 18 of the paper, which were not undertaken by the incumbents of the former IC post (ranked at D4) in the pre-handover period, could hardly justify pitching the proposed IC post at D8 level.
29. In response, SCS reiterated that the IC would take a pro-active approach to strengthen the Government's communication with the media and the public to enhance the transparency and openness of the Government. The IC would develop and coordinate, in conjunction with the relevant Policy Bureaux, the media and public relations strategy for presenting major proposals or issues, so that a uniform stance was taken in stating the Government's position. Miss Emily LAU, however, felt that such coordination work should be the responsibility of the Chief Secretary for Administration.
30. In reply to Mr LEE Wing-tat's enquiry about the IC's work schedule, Mr LAM said that a typical weekly schedule of the IC would be as follows : on Monday, he would hold an internal meeting on the media strategy for the week; on Tuesday, he would attend ExCo meeting in the morning and liaise with the ISD on news release in the afternoon; on Wednesday, he would deal with ExCo papers and media strategies for the following week; on Thursday or Friday, he would hold his weekly media briefing session; and on Friday, he would attend the regular meeting between the Chief Executive and Policy Secretaries.
31. Mr LEE Wing-tat asked whether Mr LAM would use the frequency of the Chief Executive's public appearances as a yardstick to access the IC work. In reply, Mr LAM reiterated that the CE's public appearances would not be reduced after the IC post was created. The Chief Executive would continue to undertake an active public engagements programme and meet the media from time to time.
32. The Chairman said that it was time for the meeting to come to a close. He reminded members that the proposal for the creation of the IC post would be considered at the Establishment Subcommittee meeting to be held on Wednesday, 16 December 1998 at 8:30 am.
33. The meeting ended at 12:49 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat
15 December 1998