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Attracting new political talent `from all sectors'

Michael Ng

Thursday, July 27, 2006

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The proposed appointment system to nurture political talent will be open to candidates from all walks of life, according to Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung.

One week after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said Hong Kong could learn from Singapore how to groom political talent, Lam Wednesday unveiled a proposal which the government hopes will enhance cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Under the proposal, the government will appoint a deputy director and an assistant to the director for each of the 11 policy bureaus.

These officers will work under, and report directly to, their bureau chiefs.

Lam said all current permanent and deputy secretaries will continue with their duties such as studying, justifying and designing government policies, while the newly appointed deputy directors will assist bureau chiefs in liaising with legislators and provide political input in policy formulation and implementation.

The assistants to bureau directors will line up suitable appointments to help bureau chiefs reach out to the community.

All candidates will be nominated by policy secretaries and appointed by the chief executive, Lam said.

A deputy director of bureau will be paid 65-75 percent of the salary now received by a bureau chief, or HK$193,774-$223,586 a month.

An assistant to the director will receive 35-50 percent of the bureau chief's salary, or HK$104,340- $149,057 a month.

Added to the HK$11.9 million projected expenses for the hiring of personal secretaries and drivers, the total cost to the administration will be about HK$60 million a year.

Lam said candidates for the new posts must support the manifesto and ruling philosophy of the chief executive.

"It is a system with vision as it offers the chief executive the flexibility to bring in more political talent to assist his political work and to motivate his election platform," Lam said.

He stressed the appointments will not be limited to members of pro- government political parties.

They will include talented people from the civil service as well as professional, business, tertiary education and media sectors.

"I believe the posts will not be dominated by a single party. Instead, it will broaden the opportunities for political participation for all sectors," Lam said.

He said the SAR would not follow Singapore's revolving door concept as civil servants who apply for these political posts will be required to leave the civil service team upon appointment, and will not be allowed to return after completing their contracts.

However, Lam's reassurance failed to convince most political parties, including the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

DAB vice chairman Lau Kong-wah said his party was not sure whether the new appointments will improve governance or enhance the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of the government.

"With two more directorate-level layers added to the three layers of politically appointed officials and the four layers of politically neutral officers, it is doubtful if this complex structure will make it easier to implement government policies," Lau said.

He also said it was not clear whether the HK$60 million in extra spending would be value for money.

Frontier convenor Emily Lau Wai- hing said since all new appointees had to agree with the chief executive's philosophy, the government was merely looking for a way to offer well-paid jobs to its supporters.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat was more forthright, saying the proposal was tailor-made for the DAB.

Civic Party legislator Margaret Ng Hoi-yee feared the political appointments would only further delay the move towards universal suffrage.

"It will encourage people to align themselves to the pro-government party as it would be easier to get a political appointment rather than to get elected," she said.

"The system will not nurture those who are independent and willing to consider the needs of the public as it excludes those who do not blindly support the chief executive."

But Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong believed the new positions will provide principal officials with useful support and meet the demands of a people-based governance.

Lam noted that just a handful of people would be politically appointed and this would not affect the stability of the 160,000-strong civil service team.

"We don't want to see the SAR become like the United States where thousands of officials leave every time a new president is installed," Lam said.

Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee said permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries will not have hierarchical relations with the deputy directors and assistants, though all senior civil servants are expected to establish a relationship of mutual trust.

But she said all administrative officers would pledge loyalty and allegiance to the chief executive and the SAR government, rather than just serving the government.

The government will conduct a four- month public consultation before deciding whether to adopt the proposal in the first half of next year.


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