Policy address priority: getting the governance structure right

| Edward Chow 19 Jul 2019

Last week Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the commencement of the next round of consultation for the policy address, normally timed for delivery in October.

There is, however, uncertainty this time around as to whether the Legislative Council can reconvene in time due to the carnage inflicted on June 12, particularly as building materials and equipment need to be imported.

Last week too, the head of the central government liaison office reaffirmed, as did Lam herself, that she is continuing in her post. So the dust surrounding her future seems settled - for now.

But what about the senior secretaries, bureau secretaries and directors of the departments who report to them, in short, the whole governance structure.

Do they need revamping/replacing? Does the dead wood need weeding out?

Should skill sets be balanced within bureaus and departments to optimize administrative and executive efficiency and to mitigate against autocracy, arrogance, shortcomings, non-actions and cover-ups.

It must be clear to too many that autocracy and arrogance would ultimately stand in the way of career advancement, except of those who indulge in it. So, how should skill sets be balanced?

Take, for example, a bureau chief or department head and the two to three deputies.

There should be a mix comprising administrative officers, professionals, promising outsiders chosen from political parties and academia and those with exceptional communication skills (media).

And apart from sharing/subdividing portfolios, which too often directly or indirectly encourages bureaucratic stumbling blocks or silo-effects to be created, officials upon appointment should sign undertakings or swear under oath that they have a duty or collective responsibility to stand/step in for each other within the same "function" whenever necessary. Next, personalities aside, how should the governance structure be revamped to foster much needed efficiency and reduce wastage?

Let's look no further than Lam's own 2018 policy address.

In paragraph 27, under "enhancing inter-departmental collaboration and efficiency," she said "there was a considerable amount of views suggesting the transport and housing bureau was overburdened and should be split into two, with the establishment of a new policy bureau to coordinate housing and land policies."

Well, has anything happened in this regard? Absolutely not!

Perhaps it was a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out that in the CY Leung administration, the housing and transport chiefs, who reported to the chief secretary, and the development head, who reported to the financial secretary, hardly talked to each other, let alone backed each other up!

Why should a resident living in Tsim Sha Tsui area in need of help have to go all the way to the only Yau Tsim Mong home affairs district office near the Mong Kok railway station to get advice.

It saddens me to note that, in colonial terms, this meant having to go from the south end of the leased Kowloon peninsular to nearly the north end at Boundary Street. It also saddens me to recall that back in the late 1970s, the district officer of Tsim Sha Tsui helped me convene a meeting of residents to form an owners' incorporation of the building I grew up in nearby his office at Carnarvon Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.

So, on civic matters, has Hong Kong moved forward?

Edward Chow is a current affairs commentator. Views expressed in this article are his own

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