Following is a question by the Hon Tam Heung Man and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 18):
The Government announced earlier a list of newly appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants to Directors of Bureaux, some of whom have already reported for duty. So far, there is still public opinion which criticises the political appointment system (including recruitment, selection, remuneration and work arrangement, etc). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the details regarding the criteria adopted by the Appointment Committee (AC) for the recruitment and selection of the above posts, and whether the Government will consider reviewing the relevant procedures and criteria to enhance transparency (including re-considering the conduct of open recruitment); if it will, of the relevant details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(b) as I have learnt that there are civil servants expressing dissatisfaction with the above political appointment system (including level of salaries and work arrangement, etc), whether the Government has adopted any measures to prevent the system from affecting the morale of civil servants; if it has, of the details of such measures; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) The Legislative Council (LegCo) approved the creation of the Under Secretary and Political Assistant positions in December 2007, and the Government indicated immediately afterward that all interested parties could put forward their nominations or make self-nominations. The Government then formed interviewing panels to interview the candidates. The interviewing panels met on many occasions, with the participation of the relevant Secretaries of Department and Directors of Bureau. The interviewing panels made assessments of individual candidates and presented their assessment to the AC chaired by the Chief Executive (CE) for consideration. All appointment decisions were made by the AC on a collective basis and according to the principle of meritocracy.
The "Report on Further Development of the Political Appointment System" (the Report), which the Government released last October, has set out the aspects which the Government would take into account when considering candidates for appointment to these new positions. These include, for example, the network they have with their respective fields, the contribution which they can make to the relevant portfolios, their knowledge and experience in public service, and their ability, etc. The AC would certainly also consider individual candidates in terms of their commitment to serving the community and pursuing a political career. It was under this framework that the AC made comprehensive assessment on individual candidates. All key decisions on the appointment procedures were made by the AC on a collective basis.
As regards the possibility of open recruitment which is mentioned in the question, this aspect was addressed in the Report. In our view, whilst open recruitment has been the system used for civil service appointments, it is not suitable for political appointments, and this is not the arrangement adopted for appointing the Principal Officials under the Political Appointment System currently. Political appointees are required to subscribe to the CE's manifesto and be committed to assuming political responsibilities collectively for the governance of Hong Kong. In any event, as stated above, all interested parties could put forward their nominations or make self-nominations.
(b) The Government attaches much importance to civil service morale. Expanding the Political Appointment System can strengthen the support to the Secretaries of Department and Directors of Bureau and enhance their capacity in handling political work. This will be conducive to maintaining a permanent, professional, and politically neutral civil service.
Regarding the remuneration level of politically appointed officials and their working relationship with civil servants, we would like to set out the following.
* On the issue of remuneration level, we consider that the remuneration packages for the positions of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants have to be competitive and should reflect the level of responsibility for these positions. The current remuneration packages for Under Secretaries and Political Assistants were approved by the Finance Committee of the LegCo in December 2007. Under Secretaries and Political Assistants are not civil servants and their remuneration packages are not linked to those of the civil service. It is not appropriate to compare the level of their remuneration directly with that of civil servants. In fact, Under Secretaries and Political Assistants are remunerated on the basis of a total cash package, and there are no housing allowance, passage allowance or gratuity benefits for them. Based on the remuneration ranges approved by the Finance Committee, the remuneration for Under Secretaries is pitched at a range equivalent to 65 per cent to 75 per cent of the remuneration for a Director of Bureau. For ease of reference, the above remuneration range for Under Secretaries is broadly equivalent to the remuneration of a D4 to D6 civil servant on agreement terms with all allowances and end-of-contract gratuity encashed. As regards Political Assistants, their remuneration is pitched at a range equivalent to 35 per cent to 55 per cent of the remuneration for a Director of Bureau. For ease of reference, the above remuneration range for Political Assistants is broadly equivalent to the remuneration of a senior professional to D2 civil servant on agreement terms with all allowances and end-of-contract gratuity encashed.
* On the issue of working arrangements, the Government has underlined the role of Under Secretaries in assuming the full range of political responsibilities, and the role of Political Assistants in providing political support and input and in conducting political liaison, when drawing up their respective job descriptions. This is to better delineate the responsibilities between them and the civil service colleagues.
As the CE indicated on May 20 when announcing the Under Secretary appointments, as the establishment of the new positions of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants represents a new arrangement, there is bound to be a period of transition. However, the Government is confident that the newly appointed officials will work closely with the Secretaries of Department and Directors of Bureau, and our highly professional civil servants in serving Hong Kong, as a team.
Ends/Wednesday, June 18, 2008