Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 421/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/PS

LegCo Panel on Public Service

Meeting on Monday, 21 September 1998 at 10:45 am in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Member attending:

Hon James TO Kun-sun

Member absent:

Hon Michael HO Mun-ka

Public Officers attending:
Ms Sandra LEE
Secretary for the Civil Service (Acting)

Mr D W Pescod
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 2

Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service) 3

Ms Joyce TAM
Principal Assistant Secretary (Civil Service) 4
Clerk in attendance:
Mr LAW Wing-lok
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)5
Staff in attendance:
Miss Mary SO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 8
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 146/98-99)

1. The minutes of meeting held on 14 July 1998 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting scheduled for 19 October 1998 -
  1. Briefing on the Chief Executive's Policy Address relating to civil service matters (Subject to agreement by the Secretary for the Civil Service);

  2. Privatisation of services provided by the Housing Department - Its impact on staff; and

  3. Privatisation of services provided by the Water Supplies Department - Its impact on staff.
3. The Chairman suggested and members agreed that representatives from the Administration should be invited to attend the next meeting to brief the Panel on items (b) and (c) in paragraph 2 above.

4. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed concern about recent media reports on civil servants borrowing money from loan sharks and suggested that this issue be discussed at the next meeting. The Chairman said that this issue could be brought up for discussion under agenda item III first. If members still felt there was a need to discuss the issue further, it would be put on the agenda of the next meeting. Members agreed.

5. Members also agreed that the issue involving businesses offering special concessions of their products and services to civil servants, which was among the priority items to be considered by the Panel, would be discussed under agenda item IV below.

(Post-meeting note: The Director of Administration informed the Secretariat on 22 September 1998 that the Secretary for the Civil Service would give a policy briefing on the Chief Executive's Policy Address relating to civil service matters at the next Panel meeting on 19 October 1998 from 10:45 am to 11:45 am)

(Representatives from the Civil Service Bureau joined the meeting at this juncture)

III. Corruption in the Civil Service
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 273/98-99(01))

6. Referring to the paper, the Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3 (DS(CS)3) said that although there was an increase of 22% in corruption reports against civil servants in the first half of 1998 as compared to that recorded in the same period in 1997, it did not necessarily imply there was a corresponding increase in corrupt activities in the civil service. The higher number of corruption reports might be attributed to an increase in public awareness of corruption and a higher expectation on civil servants' ethics, as well as the proactive effort by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to uncover corruption, particularly the efforts made in enhancing liaison with government departments to encourage referrals. Departmental management had become more alert to suspicious cases and readily reported such incidents to the ICAC, as evidenced by an increase of 45% in the number of cases referred to the ICAC for investigation. Despite the 22% increase in overall corruption complaints against civil servants, the increase in the number of such complaints that are pursuable in the first half of 1998 was 17% as compared to that in the same period in 1997. The ratio of corruption complaints against civil servants to pursuable complaints had remained fairly constant from 1995 to June 1998. DS(CS)3 further said that the Administration would continue its efforts in promoting integrity in the civil service. Initiatives taken by the Administration in this regard included, among others, the production of a handy guide book on good behaviour and the setting up of a dedicated task force to assist departments to review and draw up supplementary guidelines on avoidance of conflicts of interests tailor-made to suit operational situations.

7. Referring to paragraph 4(e) of the paper, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that in the case of those civil servants who were acquitted or had their corruption charges quashed on technical grounds, consideration should be given to dismissing them summarily instead of retiring them compulsorily in the public interest.

8. In response, the Acting Secretary for the Civil Services (Ag SCS) said that dismissal action could be taken on grounds on proven misconduct and in accordance with the Public Service (Administration) Order 1997 (the Order). Disciplinary actions could also be taken against civil servants who were acquitted of corruption charges on technical grounds. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a civil servant might be subject to disciplinary action under section 9 or 10 of the Order. Section 9 action would be taken if the alleged misconduct was not serious enough to warrant dismissal whereas section 10 action would be instituted for an alleged misconduct which, if proven, might result in dismissal or compulsory retirement. Section 12 of the Order might also be invoked to retire a civil servant compulsorily in circumstances that the retirement was desirable in the public interest.

9. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong also pointed out that there were a total of 2,951 pursuable cases during the period from 1995 to June 1998, and asked why the number of compulsory retirement cases stood at a relatively low figure of 81 from 1994/95 to June 1998. Ag SCS explained that the 81 cases did not include other forms of punishment such as reprimand, financial penalty, reduction in rank and dismissal.

10. In reply to an enquiry raised by Mr CHAN Wing-chan about the procedures involved in formal disciplinary proceedings, DS(CS)3 explained that the accused staff would be required to appear before an Investigating Committee to explain his case. If he was found guilty of the alleged misconduct, the Head of Department concerned would make a recommendation to the Civil Service Bureau on the level of punishment to be imposed. The Civil Service Bureau would in turn seek advice from the Public Service Commission before inflicting punishment. The authority to inflict punishment on staff on Master Pay Scale (MPS) 14 and above and staff below MPS 14 rested with the Secretary for the Civil Service and Heads of Departments respectively. Staff who were aggrieved by any disciplinary action might petition the Chief Executive or they might also seek a Judicial Review in the Court of First Instance of the High Court against the Administration's decision.

11. Mr Howard YOUNG referred to Annex A of the paper and pointed out that there were 40 completed prosecutions against civil servants and 18 cases of civil servants convicted of corruption-related offences in 1997, whereas the corresponding figures for the period from January to June 1998 stood only at 10 and 8. He asked why there was such a wide discrepancy between these two sets of figures, albeit the latter only covered the first half of 1998. In reply, Ag SCS said due to the varying complexity of the cases, there was no direct correlation between the number of completed prosecutions and the number of convictions in any given period.

12. Mrs Sophie LEUNG was of the view that the existing mechanism put in place by the authorities concerned to tackle corruption was pivotal in deterring corruption in the civil service. She considered that the mechanism should be made more transparent and kept under constant review to ensure its effectiveness. Ag SCS said that the Panel would be kept informed of new developments in corruption prevention periodically.

IV. Abuse of power for personal gains in the Civil Service
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 273/98-99(02))

13. DS(CS)3 introduced the paper and briefly explained the various efforts made by the Administration to prevent abuse of power for personal gains in the civil service.

14. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong opined that the existing legislation was inadequate to tackle the problem of civil servants abusing their power for personal gains. He suggested that new legislation be introduced to address the problem.

15. In response, DS(CS)3 said that the recent prosecution against three Postal Officers under the common law offence of misconduct in the public office showed that charging such offence was legally feasible. The case would be heard in court in mid October 1998 and at this stage it would not be appropriate to discuss the case in details. She opined that the outcome of the case would have major bearing for further consideration, if any, on whether new legislation needed to be introduced. She further said that under the existing Civil Service Regulations, there were various sanctions against officers committing specific acts of misconduct involving abuse of power for personal gains. These sanctions included disciplinary punishments against misconduct such as unauthorised acceptance of advantages from persons with official dealings, unauthorised outside work for persons with official dealings, unauthorised disclosure of official information, abuse of Government properties/resources and use of official information/authority for personal gains etc. A total of 161 officers were disciplined for abuse of power between the period from 1995/96 to 1997/98. Among the 161 officers disciplined, 64 officers were warned verbally or in writing; 45 officers were punished with a reprimand, severe reprimand, demotion and/or financial penalty; and the remaining 52 officers were dismissed or compulsorily retired from the civil service. To promote good standards of conduct in the civil service, the Civil Service Bureau would soon issue a handy guide book entitled "Civil Servants' Guide to Good Practices", which placed emphasis on avoidance of conflict of interest and maintaining high standards of probity in the civil service. The guide book would be distributed to all civil servants. Draft copies of the guide book would be forwarded to Panel members after the meeting.

(Post-meeting note : The draft "Civil Servants' Guide to Good Practices" was issued to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 384/98-99 on 8 October 1998.)

16. In reply to the Chairman, Ag SCS said that civil servants who bought products and services at a concessionary price from commercial firms would not be regarded as committing an act of misconduct involving abuse of power for personal gains if the concession was offered to other customers in the course of normal business of those firms. In most cases, such concession was a marketing ploy published to aim at civil servants, but was also offered to other target groups. She also pointed out that the Acceptance of Advantages Notice 1992 had set out clear guidelines on the types of advantages which civil servants were permitted to accept.

V. Review of the system for declaration of investments by civil servants
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 273/98-99(03))

17. DS(CS)3 briefed members on the outcome of the review as detailed in the paper. Under the revised declaration system, officers in Tier I posts were required to report all their investments in and outside Hong Kong annually. They would also have to report any investment transaction equivalent to or exceeding HK$200,000. In the case of officers in Tier II posts, they were required to report investments in and outside Hong Kong biennially as well as any transaction amount equivalent to or exceeding HK$200,000 or 3 months' salary, whichever is the less. She further informed members that the revised declaration system would be implemented in October this year.

18. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed dissatisfaction that the Administration did not consult the Council before promulgating the revised declaration system. He said that the revised declaration system failed to plug the loophole exposed by the former LegCo's Inquiry into the departure of Mr LEUNG Min-yin from the Government, and he considered that officers should be required to report before making any investment transactions to avoid conflict of interest situations. In response, DS(CS)3 said that the Administration had incorporated the findings of the former LegCo's Inquiry in drawing up the revised declaration system. Civil servants were now required under the revised rules to report any investments made with members of public or private bodies with which they had official dealings. She further said that new and updated rules and procedures relating to conflict of interest were set out in Civil Service Bureau Circular No. 8/98 on Declaration of Investments by Civil Servants. She undertook to provide copies of the Circular to Panel members after the meeting.

(Post-meeting note : The Civil Service Bureau Circular No. 8/98 on Declaration of Investments by Civil Servants was issued to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 384/98-99 on 8 October 1998.)

19. Mr James TO pointed out that all staff of the ICAC were required to declare their investments, whereas such a requirement did not apply to staff in the Police Force. Ag SCS said that CSB would encourage those departments the operation of which was more susceptible to conflict of interest situations to draw up supplementary declaration requirements specific to their operational needs.

VI. Common terms of appointment and conditions of service for the civil service (LC Paper No. CB(2) 273/98-99(04))

20. Referring to the paper, Ag SCS highlighted some of the 1994 Common Terms proposals which had been implemented since 1995 to remove variations between "local" and "overseas" terms and conditions. She explained that the modified proposals set out in the paper did not seek to change any of terms and conditions recommended under the 1994 Common Terms proposals. The only change recommended was to apply the proposed Common Terms only to new recruits with effect from a current date in order to simplify the administration of terms and conditions in the civil service.

21. In reply to Mr LEE Kai-ming, Ag SCS said that existing terms and conditions would continue to apply for all serving staff on agreement terms who remained in employment without a break in service. However, application for renewal of agreement by an officer on common terms who was a non-local would be subject to no suitable and qualified local replacement.

22. Ag SCS said that the various advisory bodies on civil service matters and the Staff Sides supported the modified proposals. As officers on common agreement terms on MPS 34 or above would be eligible for the Rent Allowance Scheme, arrangement would be made to seek Finance Committee's approval to create a new sub-head for the proposed rent allowance for agreement officers serving on Common Terms. Under the Rent Allowance Scheme, officers might draw a fully accountable Rent Allowance time-limited to 10 years to lease accommodation. The rate of allowance would be pegged to the prevailing Home Financing Allowance rates.

23. Members supported the proposal and noted that it was the Administration's aim to implement Common Terms in 1998 in respect of new appointments to the civil service.

VII. Any other business
Ambit of the Panel on Public Service

24. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong asked whether the ambit of the Panel on Public Service included the monitoring of conditions of service matters in statutory organizations such as the Airport Authority. The Chairman requested the clerk to seek clarification from the Legal Service Division and report at the next meeting.

25. The meeting ended at 12:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
13 October 1998