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CAB responds to remarks on further development of political appointment system

In response to media enquiries on the remarks made by Mrs Anson Chan at the Luncheon of the Rotary Club, a spokesman for the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB) reiterated today (November 28) that the Government's proposal on the further development of the political appointment system should be seen in the wider context of the long-term constitutional development of Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong's system of public administration must move with the times. On the one hand, we propose the further development of the political appointment system so that there will be more opportunities for political participation.

"On the other hand, we are taking forward discussions on the ultimate aim of electing the Chief Executive (CE) and all Members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage," the spokesman said.

"We are pursuing these discussions on a dual track, because we hope to open up both the hardware of the electoral system and the software of political appointments.

"Opening up positions in the Government can help increase opportunities for political participation. In the long run, the two elements are complementary and both will facilitate improvement in governance."

He explained that it was not the Government's intention to draw solely from the civil service to fill the new positions of Deputy Directors of Bureaus and Assistants to Directors of Bureaus.

"We envisage that the candidates for the proposed new positions will not come from one single source, but can come from the civil service, political parties, business, professionals and academia, etc.," he said.

"Political leaders around the world form a cabinet team to deliver on the election manifestos and undertakings given to the people during election campaigns. Likewise, the CE of Hong Kong needs to form his political team to assist him in implementing the election manifesto and in delivering policies that can better respond to the community's aspirations.

"The proposed arrangement is similar to systems adopted in jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Canada, where each ministry has two to three layers of politically appointed ministers, underpinned by career and politically neutral civil servants," the spokesman said.

He further explained that given Hong Kong's open and transparent environment, with the various institutions, including the elected legislature and the free press, operating effectively to keep the Government in check, the governing team had to remain highly sensitive to public opinion and be prepared to be held accountable. Thus, the conditions in Hong Kong were suitable for further developing the political appointment system.

The spokesman emphasised that the Government was committed to strengthening the existing institutional arrangement to ensure that political appointees and civil servants could better perform their respective roles to deliver good governance collectively.

"In other jurisdictions, the vice-ministers and political aides tender political advice and input to their ministers. Senior civil servants provide policy analysis and options. Ministers amalgamate policy options and political assessment to form government policies.

"Likewise, Directors of Bureaus and Deputy Directors of Bureaus in Hong Kong will provide political leadership underpinned by civil servants.

"In the Consultation Document, a broad picture of the division of responsibilities between the political appointees and civil servants was set out. We will work out the details in the coming months taking into account the views received during the public consultation.

"We envisage that such a system will help strengthen governance and preserve Hong Kong's civil service system," he added.

In response to the concern that the proposal may compromise the impartiality of the civil service, the spokesman said that the civil service of Hong Kong had fine traditions that, while in office, civil servants must uphold the principle of political neutrality and impartiality in giving honest and impartial advice, and discharging public functions without fear or favour. Such requirements were provided for in the relevant civil service regulations.

"In further expanding the political appointment system, the integrity of the civil service must be preserved.

"The Government will also put in place a code to ensure proper behaviour of the new political appointees. Specifically, they should be subject to certain requirements similar to those applicable to politically appointed Principal Officials," he said.

The CAB and the Civil Service Bureau have been listening to the views of the civil service and other sectors of the community on the consultation document.

The Government will consider carefully all the views received during the consultation period, which will end on November 30, 2006, with a view to formulating a proposed way forward in the first half of 2007.

Ends/Tuesday, November 28, 2006