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LCQ4: The Principle Of Political Neutrality Of Civil Servants

Following is a question by the Hon Fred Li on the principle of political neutrality of civil servants and an oral reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, in the Legislative Council today (June 9):


At the end of last month, several newspapers published a political commentary by an Assistant Director of Immigration published in the department's internal publication. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed if the officer's act has violated the principle of political neutrality that civil servants should uphold; if the assessment result shows that it has not, of the justifications;

(b) how the existing Civil Service Regulations and Codes define and regulate the circumstances under which a civil servant may openly publish political commentaries carrying his official title; whether staff of the disciplined services are subject to tighter regulation; and

(c) of the specific measures it has put in place to ensure that civil servants will not be affected by their political stance in discharging their official duties, they will not be asked by their superiors to state their position on a political subject, and similar incidents will not recur?

Madam President:

Before responding to the specific questions raised by the Hon Fred Li, will first explain the principle of political neutrality that civil servants should uphold and give an account of the circumstances surrounding the reproduction of the concerned article in newspapers.   

The principle of political neutrality that civil servants should uphold comprises the following key elements -

(a) the civil service's political neutrality is built on its allegiance to the Government;

(b) it is every civil servant's duty to be loyal to the Chief Executive and the principal officials of the day;

(c) it is the role of civil servants to evaluate the implications of policy options and to tender clear and honest advice in the process of policy formulation;

(d) once a decision has been taken by the Administration, civil servants should support and implement the decision fully and faithfully irrespective of their personal preferences and should not make known their own views in public; and

(e) civil servants should assist the principal officials in explaining policy decisions and in gaining support of the Legislative Council and the public.

According to the information provided by the Immigration Department, the incident involves an officer contributing, in his personal capacity, an article entitled "Reflections on Political Reform" to Image, an internal newsletter of the Immigration Department. The article contains his personal reflections after he attended a seminar on "The Basic Law and Political Development". The article does not in any way represent the stance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government or the Immigration Department. The article published in the newsletter did not carry the post title of the writer. After the article was released internally, the officer received positive response from his departmental colleagues and friends. Upon consulting his supervisor, the officer approached the newspapers through the Communications and Public Affairs Section of the Immigration Department.   The article was subsequently faxed to the newspapers by the Communications and Public Affairs Section and was reproduced.  In the course of releasing the article to the newspapers, the Immigration Department has given permission for the officer to issue the article in his personal as opposed to official capacity. 

My replies to the questions are as follows -

(a) The incident stems from a civil servant of the Immigration Department publishing an article in his personal capacity in an internal departmental publication of the Immigration Department. With departmental approval, a photocopy of the article was subsequently faxed to the newspapers. When the article was sent to the newspapers, it did not bear the post title of the contributor, nor was it indicated that the article represented the views of the Government or the Immigration Department. Hence, seen in the overall context, the act of the officer did not violate the principle of political neutrality that civil servants should uphold. 

(b) An officer when discharging official duties or attending an activity in his official capacity and subject to his being duly authorised or permitted by the department to do so, may publish an article or make a public speech using his post title.  

(c) The Civil Service Bureau issued a Circular No. 8/2002 in June 2002 which elucidates the principles and values that should be upheld by civil servants. The principles and values include the following -

(i) commitment to the rule of law;

(ii) honesty and integrity;

(iii) accountability for decisions and actions;

(iv) political neutrality;

(v) impartiality in the execution of public functions; and

(iv) dedication, professionalism and diligence in serving the community.

It is the responsibility of all civil servants to uphold the core values and standards of conduct expected of them as elucidated in the circular.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

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