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Civil Service Newsletter
November 2010 Issue No.79
Features
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  Civil service united in support of citizens following hostage incident
 
  Manila mercy dash highlights united support team efforts
 
  DH doctors rushed to provide medical advice and assistance to victims
 
  ISD colleagues a conduit to media and Hong Kong public
 
  A journey too far
 
  Coming home
 
  Warm words and caring messages
 
  Speech by Chief Executive for Public Sector Reform –
“The Responsibility of Reform”
 
  Policy Address highlights improved civil service management tools
 
  The Secretary for the Civil Service led a delegation of Permanent Secretaries to the Mainland for a national studies course and visit
 
  Teamwork key to
Hong Kong’s successful Expo presence
 
  Public Service Commission: Guardian of the civil service management system
 
  It is giving and serving that makes engineering worthwhile
 
  Useful weather service through application of technology
 
  Communication a proven key to electrical safety
   
Public Service Commission: Guardian of the civil service management system
Public Service Commission
 
 
THIS year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Public Service Commission (the Commission). In an interview with us, Nicholas Ng Wing-fui, the incumbent Chairman, reflects on the Commission’s development in the past sixty years and gives his thoughts on the way forward.
 
 
 
Before becoming Chairman of the Commission in 2005, Mr Ng had crossed paths with the Commission on many occasions

 

Before becoming Chairman of the Commission in 2005, Mr Ng had crossed paths with the Commission on many occasions.

Functions of the Commission

“The Commission is responsible for advising the Chief Executive on civil service appointment, promotion and disciplinary matters. I joined the Government in 1970, and as was, and still is, the case with all new recruits, the recommendation for my appointment was submitted to the Commission for advice. The only difference between then and now is that, in those days, the Heads of Department or Grade had to put up a recommendation to the Commission for each individual case on whether an officer could pass the probation bar or otherwise upon completion of the probation period. But now, they are only required to submit the ‘refusal’ or ‘deferment’ cases to the Commission for advice,” Mr Ng says.

Mr Ng explains that apart from a few exceptions as stipulated in the Public Service Commission Ordinance, nearly all civil service posts came within the ambit of the Commission when it was established in the 1950s. But since the early 1960s, the Commission had focused its attention on the appointment matters of the more senior ranks. When Mr Ng joined the service in the 1970s, all ranks with a starting monthly salary of $1,156 or above came within its purview. With the introduction of the Master Pay Scale (MPS) in 1971, the threshold for determining whether a rank falls within the remit of the Commission has since been determined by its pay point on the MPS.

“The present purview of the Commission on appointments and promotions only covers ranks with a maximum salary point on or above Point 26 on the MPS. The cut-off salary point originated from the recommendation of the Second Report on 1989 Salary Structure Review of the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service to implement a MPS with 49 pay points to replace the original 51 pay point scale. As a result of the changes made to the MPS, the Commission also revised the cut-off salary point from MPS Point 30 as stipulated by Section 3 of the Public Service Commission Ordinance to MPS Point 26. It happened that at the time, I headed the Secretariat for the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service,” Mr Ng recalls how he and the Commission had crossed paths again.

Mr Ng has worked in many different departments, and has served as chairman or member of promotion boards on many occasions. In the 1980s, Mr Ng was the Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service in the Civil Service Branch of the Government Secretariat (the present Civil Service Bureau) with responsibility for staff management matters. From then till now, Mr Ng’s role has undergone a significant change from that of a member of the Administration to the position of Chairman of the Commission. He has been able to witness the development of the Commission from different perspectives across different time periods.

 

Membership of the Public Service Commission
Membership of the Public Service Commission.

 

Change guarantees future success

“In my view, the functions of the Commission have only been changing within its basic parameters. Whatever the changes, they are primarily adjustments to the administrative arrangements so that the Commission can discharge its duties effectively, achieve its mission of safeguarding the impartiality and integrity of the appointment and promotion systems in the civil service, and ensuring that fairness and broad consistency in disciplinary punishment are maintained throughout the service,” Mr Ng explains. “When the Commission was established in the early 1950s, the Government only had about 18,500 posts on the permanent establishment, and the Commission dealt with several hundred appointment and promotion cases annually. But now, the Government has a permanent establishment of 160,000 posts and the number of appointment and promotion cases processed and advised by the Commission is close to 1,000 annually. It is therefore appropriate that the Commission should focus on the more important business and devolve the more straightforward responsibilities to maintain its smooth operation. For instance, while in the past all cases concerning the passage of probation or trial bar had to be advised by the Commission, now only the special cases, such as those concerning the refusal of passage of probation or trial bar or the extension of probation or trial period, are required to be submitted to the Commission for consideration.

As regards appointment, since December 2007, the Commission has ceased its involvement in those steps that would duplicate the efforts made by the recruiting bureaus/departments (B/Ds) but would not add value to the recruitment process, e.g. vetting the recruitment advertisements for publication in newspapers. Obviously, where circumstances so demanded, the Commission would take on more responsibilities. In 1971, the Commission included disciplinary cases in its remit. Since then, the formal disciplinary cases of all Category A officers (with the exception of those whose offices are exempted under the Public Service Commission Ordinance) have to be submitted to the Commission for advice before punishments are given under the Public Service (Administration) Order to ensure that the punishments are appropriate and generally in line with the overall punishment level of the civil service.”

    Commission garners praise

The Commission is tasked with onerous responsibilities and has all along been assuming an important role. This also sums up what Mr Ng thinks of the work of the Commission in the past five years. “I would like to thank all former chairmen and members who served tirelessly and helped lay a solid foundation for the Commission, earning trust and respect both inside and outside the Government. In recent years, the Commission’s annual reports have attracted press and media coverage which depicted the Commission as a critic of the Government’s personnel policies. However, as a matter of fact, the Commission plays the important role of a monitor and guardian. In its annual reports, the Commission makes observations on those cases that require improvements. The aim is to help B/Ds enhance their human resources management (HRM) measures through experience sharing and references to precedents, thereby attaining consistency in the implementation of Government’s HRM policies while allowing for a reasonable degree of flexibility to cater for the needs of individual cases. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the Government’s HRM system treats all cases in an objective and equitable manner so as to safeguard the individual rights and career prospects of civil servants. This will also help to create an environment that enables a civil service culture of merit and fair play to thrive which in turn motivates staff, raises morale, enhances quality of work and efficiency in the provision of public service.”

Objectivity key to impartial advice

Mr Ng explains that the Commission has always operated independently. It examines submissions on HRM issues objectively and impartially. B/Ds look on the Commission’s advice and observations seriously, and should the views of departmental management deviate from the advice of the Commission, the case will have to be submitted to the Chief Executive for a decision. Generally speaking, B/Ds have the utmost regard for the Commission’s advice and respond positively to its queries. Over the past decade, the number of submissions queried by the Commission averaged 30% to 40% each year, of which about 30% were then revised by the relevant B/Ds. As for the remaining cases, additional information and justifications were provided for clarification to enable the Commission to understand and support the recommendations. According to the Commission’s record, only in 2002 did the Government opt not to accept the Commission’s advice on the level of punishment in two related disciplinary cases.

According to Mr Ng, the Commission’s work is not confined to examining the case submissions of B/Ds. The Commission has long advised the Civil Service Bureau on various matters relating to the review and development of HRM policies and practices. For instance, in recent years, the Commission has made responses* to the Consultation Document on Further Development of the Political Appointment System and the Consultation Document on Review of Post-service Outside Work for Directorate Civil Servants. Furthermore, the Commission’s efforts have achieved results in facilitating the review of the Common Recruitment Examination requirements, streamlining the recruitment process for civil servants, rationalising long-term acting arrangements, strengthening the staff performance management system, as well as formulating the benchmarks of punishment for different disciplinary cases.

 

Mr Ng (left) visiting the Government Logistics Department
Mr Ng (left) visiting the Government Logistics Department.

 

Into the future

Looking ahead, Mr Ng firmly believes that there will not be much change in the way the Commission operates. As always, the Commission will make every effort to uphold and safeguard the impartiality and integrity of the systems of appointment, promotion and disciplinary punishment in the civil service. “Meanwhile, the Commission understands the public has increasing expectations of the Government and the civil service. Competition for talents in the manpower market has never been so keen before, and the impact on the civil service must not be overlooked. Hence, the Commission collaborated with the Administration to pursue a study on the attractiveness of civil service jobs in 2008. Besides, the Commission also strives to help the Administration take forward a total approach in staff development for succession and development purposes. These tasks will be the focus of our work in the years ahead.”

All in all, Mr Ng thinks that people must come before tasks and regards proper staff management as the key to an organisation’s success. It is an essential, albeit complex and sensitive, component of the administration process. The Commission has accumulated six decades of experience in this area, and its members are distinguished leaders from different sectors of society, well experienced in management, and have good knowledge of the structure and operation of the Government. Looking ahead, the Commission will, upon the existing sound foundation, continue to make observations and comments on the Government’s HRM policy and its effectiveness in an objective and impartial manner. It will facilitate the Government’s on-going effort to keep abreast of HRM practices and to respond to the changing needs of the community.

 

All in all, Mr Ng thinks that people must come before tasks and regards proper staff management as the key to an organisation’s success
 
 
*Please refer to Appendix I of the Commission’s Annual Report 2006 and Appendix VI of the Commission’s Annual Report 2009, both of which can be downloaded from the Commission’s website at http://www.psc.gov.hk.