|LCQ4: Under Secretaries and Political Assistants（with Annex）
Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 20):
It has been almost one year since the first batch of the 17 politically-appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants assumed duty in May last year. Yet, the outcome of a survey published by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong in April this year indicated that over 90 per cent of the respondents were not able to name any one of the Under Secretaries or Political Assistants, with the Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs and the Under Secretary for Food and Health, as well as the Political Assistants to the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, the Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Home Affairs receiving zero recognition. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has assessed the work performance of the various Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, including if they can perform the functions of assisting the Government in gauging public sentiments and explaining government policies to the general public; if so, of the details; and whether there are measures in place to raise their level of recognition; if so, of the details; and
(b) of the details (including the names, organisers, dates and contents) of the activities, set out in tables, attended by each of the Under Secretaries and Political Assistants since assumption of duty, broken down by the nature of these activities (namely visiting the districts in person to listen to public opinion, liaising with members of political parties and community groups, attending media interviews to explain government policies to the public, attending meetings of this Council and its committees, as well as taking part in policy forums)?
Under Secretaries are responsible principally for assisting Secretaries in undertaking the full range of political work, including the handling of Legislative Council (LegCo) business, and deputising for the Secretaries during the latter's temporary absence.
Political Assistants are responsible principally for providing political support and input to the Secretaries and the Under Secretaries, and conducting the necessary political liaison at the instruction of the Secretaries and the Under Secretaries, including the liaison with the media and various stakeholders.
I set out below some key areas to illustrate the actual work of the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants in various aspects since the time they have assumed office.
(a) With effect from the 2008/09 legislative session, the Secretaries or the Under Secretaries have normally attended regular meetings of the relevant LegCo panels. Subject to circumstances and requirements, the Under Secretaries have also attended other meetings of the LegCo, including the meetings of the Finance Committee and various subcommittees. These are important forums for the Government to explain its policies and to secure support for its initiatives.
(b) The Under Secretaries have deputised for the Secretaries to respond to LegCo questions and handle motion debates during the latter's temporary absence. Moreover, during the period when the Under Secretaries are acting as Secretaries, they have exercised statutory powers vested in the Secretaries.
(c) In respect of LegCo business, apart from participation in formal meetings, the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants have also taken part actively in the lobbying work to seek Members' support to government policies.
(d) As part of their role in reaching out to the community, the Under Secretaries chaired the district forums on the 2008/09.
(e) The Under Secretaries have attended the meetings of all the 18 District Councils to listen to views of the District Council members.
(f) The Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants have taken up invitations to attend district functions and functions held by various bodies and associations, and have taken part in the related officiating ceremonies and have spoken on these occasions, from time to time.
Media and Publicity work
(g) The Under Secretaries have also attended media programmes (such as radio phone-in programmes), taken up media interviews, and conducted public forums and media briefings.
The day-to-day work of the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants covers many different areas, and it is difficult for such work to be completely quantified. However, in the light of Part (b) of the question, we have set out in the Annex for Members' reference some statistics regarding the attendance of the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants at certain types of public functions or activities since the time they have assumed office.
As regards Part (a) of the question, the response of the Administration is as follows :
(a) With the creation of the Under Secretary and Political Assistant positions, the Political Appointment System is now more complete. During the time when a Secretary is out of Hong Kong, the Under Secretary can act in the position. Moreover, whenever any major issues or incidents come up, the Under Secretaries can share out the work of the Secretaries and complement the latters' roles. Examples include the following:
(i) In the recent weeks, in the light of the developments relating to the Human Swine Influenza, the Government has activated its "Preparedness Plan for Influenza Pandemic". The Under Secretary for Food and Health has taken part in the daily media sessions frequently to brief the media and the public on the latest situation and the measures taken by the Government. We believe that this can help enhance public confidence.
(ii) The Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs conducted public forums in March 2009 on the Consultation Document on Prisoners' Voting Right and, after the close of the consultation period, held a briefing session for the media on the Government's new proposed policy directions.
(b) When discharging their work, the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants would need to liaise with different persons and organisations at different levels, including the LegCo, District Councils, political parties / groups, district personalities, media and the relevant stakeholders. They would also need to get in touch with the public through different channels to gauge the public sentiments. However, the liaison, which they have initiated with persons and organisations in different sectors in accordance with their respective portfolios, would not necessarily enhance the level of public recognition for the officials concerned.
(c) The level of public recognition for public figures is subject to many factors, including the length of their public service, the level of their positions, and the significance of the issues handled by them. These factors will all have a bearing on their public exposure and the "recognition ratings". Accordingly, it would not be possible for us to assess accurately the effectiveness of the political work undertaken by politically appointed officials by a simple reference to the "recognition ratings".
The Government does not see the need to take any deliberate measures to raise the level of recognition for the officials concerned. We consider that the Under Secretaries and the Political Assistants should continue to perform their official roles and take a practical approach to their work in serving the public.
Ends/Wednesday, May 20, 2009