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LCQ6: Civil Service Code

Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and an oral reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Miss Denise Yue, in the Legislative Council today (July 9):

Question:

As indicated in the Report on Further Development of the Political Appointment System published in October last year, a Civil Service Code (the Code) applicable to civil servants will be drawn up. The Code will clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities of civil servants under the political appointment system to avoid uncertainty about the responsibilities of politically appointed officials and civil servants, and safeguard the integrity and political impartiality of the civil service. Although the Administration had issued a circular at the end of March on how civil servants should complement Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, the Code is not yet available and some civil servants have indicated that they are at a loss as to what to do. In addition, some former high-ranking officials have pointed out that the Administration has made a number of mistakes in the process of appointing the first batch of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, and the situation is so deplorable that it has not only agitated the community at large and dealt a blow to the morale of civil servants, but has also made an impact on the integration between these politically appointed officials and civil servants. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) whether they have assessed the impact of the further development of the political appointment system on the morale of civil servants; if so, of the results;

(b) when the Code will be published and the reasons for the delay in its publication, and whether they have assessed if civil servants will find it difficult to properly carry out their responsibilities in the absence of a code providing clear guidelines; and

(c) apart from the Executive Authorities' five points of response at this stage to the request made by Members of this Council that the authorities should review the political appointment system, as mentioned by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs at the meeting of this Council on June 26, whether the authorities will also conduct an in-depth and comprehensive review, in particular, of the criteria and procedure for appointing and selecting Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, and whether the authorities will appoint the second batch of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants after announcing the results of the review?

Reply :

Madam President,

Regarding part (a) of the question, under the political appointment system, the civil service remains the backbone of the Government, and the Government attaches much importance to civil service morale. One of the purposes of the introduction of the political appointment system in July 2002 was to separate the political leadership from the civil service for upholding the integrity of the civil service and maintaining a professional, permanent and politically neutral civil service. With the further development of the political appointment system, increasing the number of political appointments by the Government can provide stronger support to the Secretaries of Departments and Directors of Bureau concerned in handling political work, and provide better assurance that the core value of political neutrality of the civil service can be maintained.

In pursuing the further development of the political appointment system, the Government has also put in place various measures to ensure that the operation of the civil service will not be adversely affected. For example, the Report on Further Development of the Political Appointment System published in October last year has stipulated that Under Secretaries will have no direct line of command vis-a-vis Permanent Secretaries who will, for the purpose of organisational structure and performance appraisal, continue to report to the Directors of Bureau. The internal General Circular concerning the organisational changes in the Government Secretariat arising from further development of the political appointment system issued at the end of March this year has also recapped such information as well as the job descriptions of the Under Secretaries and Political Assistants. Furthermore, in the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System, the Government has made clear that at all times politically appointed officials should uphold and promote a clean, permanent, professional, meritocratic and politically neutral civil service. They should give fair consideration and due weight to the advice from civil servants, and have due regard to rules and regulations which are applicable to civil servants or otherwise regulate the operation of the Government. The Civil Service Bureau (CSB) will also issue a Civil Service Code (the Code) applicable to civil servants to mirror this arrangement.

As a matter of fact, when introducing changes to any governance system, there is bound to be a period of transition. The Administration has all along through the existing staff consultative machinery maintained close communication with the staff consultative bodies, staff unions, staff associations, staff representatives, etc. at various levels. We will continue to make good use of various communication channels and keep a close watch on the collaboration and working relationship between the politically appointed officials and the civil service under the expanded political appointment system. I strongly believe that the civil service will uphold their professionalism, and continue to contribute to the effective governance of the Government and provide quality services to the public in close collaboration with all politically appointed officials.

Regarding part (b) of the question, the Code is being drafted by CSB. As the Code will be applied to the entire civil service and involves the core values and principles that all civil servants should follow and uphold, as well as the roles and responsibilities of civil servants under the expanded political appointment system, etc., we have to exercise prudence in the drafting work. CSB will finish drafting the Code as soon as possible, and will consult the staff sides and the Legislative Council Panel on Public Service thereafter. Pending the promulgation of the Code, the CSB circular on "The Role and Responsibilities of Civil Servants in relation to Principal Officials appointed under the Accountability System" issued in 2002 will continue to provide guidance for civil servants. The Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System issued by the Administration has also set out the roles and responsibilities between the politically appointed officials and the civil service for reference by relevant parties.

Regarding part (c) of the question, as the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs indicated at the Legislative Council meeting on June 26, the Government will take the following measures when appointing Under Secretaries and Political Assistants in future:

(1) When announcing the appointments, the Government will, subject to the consent of the newly-appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, also make public whether they have the right of abode in any foreign country.

(2) As to whether any Under Secretary or Political Assistant with foreign right of abode decides to renounce such a right, this is a personal decision which the Government will continue to respect.

(3) In offering appointments to Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, the Government will make clear to them that their remuneration will be disclosed when announcing their appointments.

(4) The Appointment Committee will consider offering starting salaries below the mid-point of the respective pay scales for any newly-appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants who have less working experience than those already recruited.

(5) When announcing the appointments, the Government will arrange for the newly-appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants to meet with the media, so that the public will have the opportunity to know them better.

The Government has made public the appointment process, the appointment criteria, and the criteria for determining remuneration for each appointee. The Government has also set out the information in writing to the Legislative Council Panel on Constitutional Affairs. Together with the five measures mentioned above, we consider that there is sufficient transparency about the appointment process in overall terms.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

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