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LCQ6: Government upholds accountability and integrity of the civil service

Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, in the Legislative Council today (November 22):

Question:

The Board of Enquiry set up to investigate the disturbance at the Hei Ling Chau Addiction Treatment Centre has recommended disciplinary actions against seven officers of the Correctional Services Department. However, the Administration advised the Panel on Security of this Council this month that those officers' names would not be made public. Regarding the government departments' practice of not making known the names of civil servants who are subject to disciplinary actions, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the reasons for adopting such a practice;

(b) given that professional bodies will make known names of their members who are subject to disciplinary actions, of the rationale for government departments not adopting the same practice; and

(c) whether they have assessed if such practice has deviated from the Government's objective of enhancing the accountability of civil servants?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Government is firmly committed to upholding the accountability and integrity of the civil service. We take a very serious view on any acts of misconduct committed by civil servants and will not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary actions or legal proceedings against the officers concerned. However, in taking disciplinary action, we must ensure that the proceedings are conducted fairly and in compliance with any legislation governing the rights of the individuals. Specifically on the three points raised in the question, I would like to respond as follows:

(a) Disciplinary proceedings in the civil service are conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice (including the rule against bias and the right to a fair hearing) and with due respect for an individual's rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights Ordinance. The system has been designed to ensure that management actions and punishment are commensurate with the gravity of the misconduct, and appropriate to achieve the desired deterrent effect.

In line with these principles and as a long-standing practice in the civil service, we do not, as a general rule, disclose the personal data of officers subject to disciplinary actions for the information of the public. The administration of disciplinary actions is an internal matter. Disclosing their names may lead to a public trial of the officers and is liable to prejudice the disciplinary proceedings by depriving them of their right to a fair hearing. The Government, as any other data user, must also comply with the provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. As a general provision, without the consent of the data subject, it is against the law to disclose the personal data of the officers subject to disciplinary actions for use other than the purposes for which the data are collected.

(b) In general, the legislation governing various professions (in fields including law, medicine, accountancy and engineering) provides for the publication in the gazette of a register of qualified practitioners. This is usually accompanied by express provisions which specify the circumstances under which the relevant professional body may remove the name of one of its members from the register.

Such provisions are necessary primarily because most of the practitioners in these professions are providing important professional services to members of the public. Whether or not a member of a professional body is qualified to practise or has been reprimanded is clearly a material consideration to a member of the public in determining whether or not to engage his or her service. Where a member of a professional body is found guilty of professional misconduct after a due inquiry, and the decision is to remove his/her name from the register of qualified practitioners, the relevant professional body may file an order in the Gazette to that effect. This notification is necessary in order to up-date the relevant register for the information of the public.

Civil servants who are members of these professional bodies are not exempted from these provisions, if found guilty of professional misconduct which warrants removal of their names from the register.

The circumstances under which their members operate are such that there is a need for the professional bodies to notify the public of changes to their registers. Having regard to the different set of circumstances in which civil servants in general are operating and the reasons set out in (a) above, we do not consider it appropriate to adopt the same practice in the civil service.

(c) Enhancing the accountability of civil servants is an objective which is always foremost in our minds. In accordance with this objective, immediately following the disturbance at Hei Ling Chau, the Commissioner of Correctional Services ordered an investigation into the incident. Through the Panel on Security in this Council, the Administration has briefed Members on the causes for the incident, lessons learned, whether public officers are found to be at fault, how many officers may be considered for disciplinary proceedings, and what improvement measures are being taken to forestall recurrence of similar incidents in future.

For the reasons already explained in the beginning of my reply, we have not divulged the names of the officers concerned. We believe that the absence of such information in the public domain will in no way affect the public's understanding of the facts of the case or this Council's monitoring of how well lessons learned are acted upon.

End/Wednesday, November 22, 2000
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