Thursday, November 26, 2015   

A think tank of slickers

Mary Ma

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lawmakers will today hear a high- sounding request from the traditionally low-profile Central Policy Unit: please let us create a regular full-time post with a salary-and-perks tag of a not-to-be- sneezed-at HK$2.8 million a year.

That's comparable to the sum payable to a government minister, so it's no wonder lawmakers are loudly expressing their concern.

The job to be discussed today is for a fourth full-time position in the new CPU which, if agreed, would push salary costs for the full-time members alone to more than HK$10 million.

That sure sounds like a lot of money to me, and it's fair to ask whether this represents value for money.


Chief executive Leung Chun-ying appointed his close friend Shiu Sin-por four months ago to replace academic Lau Siu-kai as head of the CPU.

In a TV interview at the weekend, Shiu spoke for the first time about what his team has been doing. Any insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the rather secret CPU is welcome. Since Shiu became its head, the unit has been expanding vigorously and the full-time post under discussion today was previously a short-term position.

Besides the full-time posts at the CPU, there are also 44 part-time members, including communication and PR manager Kwai Ting-kong. And it's likely more will be drafted into the unit if Sophia Kao Ching-chi, the full-time member responsible for headhunting, thinks there is a need.

The CPU is also asking for additional funds of over HK$1.2 million a year to hire more research officers.

It's clear that Shiu's CPU will be hugely different from that of his predecessor. In the TV interview, Shiu insisted the CPU is a no-nonsense group. He stressed it is not just a "chit-chat think tank" but also the administration's political tool to drum up public support and battle opposition opinions. Besides conducting regular research, it also has to closely monitor internet opinions. As Shiu sees it, a more "high-sounding" approach is needed because the SAR is already a society of electoral politics even though it isn't yet fully democratic.

That's certainly no easy task - but what, exactly, do members of the CPU actually do? Take Kao for example. According to Shiu, she is responsible for recruiting talent not only for the CPU but also for all government advisory bodies.

The responsibility is so wide that - according to the rumor mill - all policy bureaus will also have to submit names to her for scrutiny before they can formally include them on their own advisory groups. If that's the case, it's no wonder the CPU needs a bigger slice of the budget to handle jobs that policy bureaus have already been handling well. Or perhaps the chief executive has no confidence in civil servants' ability to scout out the right people for him.

But, again, what do the members actually do? I hope the weekend BBQ held at the chief executive's Fan Ling lodge was not typical of their job description.

The party was attended by part-time members, including Kwai, who sent a bunch of photos to the media that included a shot of himself with Leung's wife Regina. Perhaps Kwai was trying to gain publicity for the CPU, but I'm afraid it appears as if he was trying to win greater publicity for himself.

Are we going to rely on the talents of people like Kwai when it comes to policies that affect everyone? If that is the kind of "spin" that Shiu has in mind, then there must be doubts about it. Shiu is accurate in saying that the CPU is a government body - so every cent it spends must be justified.

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