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LCQ1: Maintaining a meritorious and honest civil service

Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Leung on maintaining a meritorious and honest civil service and an oral reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, in the Legislative Council today (January 26):

Question:

Regarding the performance and conduct of civil servants, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  given that the authorities revised the procedures in 2003 to enable them to take action under Section 12 of the Public Service (Administration) Order to require an officer to retire in the public interest, if his/her performance is rated unsatisfactory within an appraisal period of 12 consecutive months and evidence shows that appropriate counselling and warning have been given by the management, whether they have assessed if the procedures can facilitate management actions and the effectiveness of such actions; if they have, of the assessment results; and

(b)  whether measures will be taken to further enhance the performance of civil servants and maintain their integrity in order to ensure that Hong Kong will continue to have a meritorious and honest civil service; if so, of the details of these measures?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Government is committed to maintaining a professional, efficient and honest civil service. Apart from giving due recognition to the meritorious performance of civil servants, our civil service management system also screens out sub-standard performers and places them under supervision to help them attain the required standard of performance. Appropriate actions will be taken to handle staff with persistent sub-standard performance, including where appropriate the compulsory retirement of an officer in the public interest. As regards integrity, all civil servants are expected to observe the rule of law and act with impartiality and honesty. They must abide by the code of conduct embodied in various civil service rules and regulations and uphold high standards of probity in both their official capacity and daily life. The Government takes a firm stand towards acts of misconduct committed by civil servants. Once allegations are substantiated through due process, the Government will not hesitate to impose appropriate disciplinary punishment according to the circumstances of the case.

My reply to the question is as follows:

(a)  With the implementation of the revised procedures for handling underperformers in April 2003, we have shortened the lead time for compulsorily retiring such officers in the public interest. In the 21 months ending December 2004, 17 civil servants were removed from the service for persistent sub-standard performance, relative to 16 such cases in the preceding four years. During this period, another 73 civil servants were brought under supervision under the Section 12 procedures. Of these, 31 showed substantive improvement that rendered further actions under Section 12 not necessary. For the remaining 42 civil servants, 32 are still under supervision while 10 have left the service for other reasons.

Notwithstanding the positive results that we have achieved with the implementation of the revised procedures, we shall continue with our efforts to streamline the procedures so that the lead time for the compulsory retirement of persistent sub-standard performers could be further reduced.  We plan to consult the Public Service Commission and the staff sides on relevant proposals in the coming few months.

(b)  I will present my response from two angles, namely, enhancing the performance and maintaining the integrity of the civil service.

On measures to enhance the performance of the civil service on a sustained basis, we dedicate our efforts to three main areas, namely giving due encouragement and recognition to staff who perform well; providing effective training and development opportunities; and improving the performance management system.

(i)  New initiatives designed to give due recognition to civil servants who perform well include the expansion of the departmental Commendation Letter Scheme in early 2004 and the introduction of the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award Scheme. We also have plans to expand the Civil Service Customer Service Award Scheme in 2005 to recognise effective cooperation among departments. To encourage civil servants to further upgrade the quality of their services to the public, we will also introduce new awards to recognise remarkable achievements in innovation and application of technology.

(ii)  The Government at present devotes about one billion dollars to the training of civil servants each year with the objective of achieving continuous improvements in the overall performance of the civil service. Apart from providing civil servants with suitable professional training and development opportunities, we also encourage staff to pursue learning in their own time so that they could enhance their resilience and capacity to adapt to changes. As an integral part of such initiatives, a new round of training sponsorship scheme will be launched in 2005. Junior staff and middle managers will be sponsored to take accredited external management programmes. Sponsorship will also be granted to frontline staff to take after-work courses that are job-related or lead to an academic qualification up to Form five.

(iii)  Continuous efforts will be made to improve the performance management system so as to reinforce our performance-based culture, which include further tightening up the aforesaid procedures for handling sub-standard performers.

As regards measures to uphold the probity of civil servants, I would like to first point out that the civil service we have in Hong Kong is widely recognised as being amongst the cleanest in the world. In fact, relative to 2003, 2004 saw a decrease of about 17 per cent in the number of corruption reports involving government departments and a drop of about 24 per cent in the number of civil servants prosecuted for corruption.

The above notwithstanding, we see no room for complacency and we will remain vigilant. On the preventive front, we have from time to time expanded or updated the guidelines on conduct matters. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been undertaking various assignment studies for government departments to help minimise opportunities for corruption or malpractice. We plan to issue to civil servants at all levels a revised "Civil Servants' Guide to Good Practices" in mid-2005.

The Government also endeavours to uphold high standards of probity and conduct in the civil service through publicity and education. The Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and ICAC have worked in close cooperation with government departments in promoting an ethical culture in the work place, including offering them assistance in organising seminars and workshops on effective integrity management measures.

CSB and ICAC will jointly organise a large-scale leadership forum in mid-2005, which will provide an opportunity for the Government, the public sector and the business community to share experience in integrity management and examine new ethical challenges.

We shall continue to take stern disciplinary actions against civil servants who have misconducted themselves. In the three years ending September 2004, on average some 660 disciplinary cases were processed each year under the Public Service (Administration) Order or the disciplined services legislation. Of these, close to 120 cases resulted in the dismissal or compulsory retirement of the officers concerned. Staff from the Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline visit departments on a regular basis to share with departmental management information or trends that are emerging on the discipline front, and assist them in taking appropriate disciplinary actions against staff who have misconducted themselves.

The Administration will review the effectiveness of the above measures on a regular basis and introduce new initiatives to ensure that Hong Kong continues to have a meritorious and clean civil service.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

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