SCMP Monday, October 9, 2000
Ex-civil service chief urges Exco reforms
A former head of the civil service has called upon Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to reform his top advisory body, saying Executive Councillors should be given portfolios and be held politically accountable for policy areas under their care.
Sir David Akers-Jones, a chief secretary in the colonial government and a Beijing-appointed local adviser, said he was confident principal officials would be grateful if they could be freed from political roles that went against their code of neutrality.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post he said: "Principal officials currently have to be responsible for introducing a policy, speaking for a policy, defending a policy, almost without help from the Executive Council, which has in fact advised the Chief Executive to approve the policy."
He said about 10 outstanding candidates from the private sector, willing to sacrifice their jobs and be paid a few million dollars a year to serve on the Executive Council, would make a big difference to the administration of Hong Kong.
"There should be councillors for education, councillors for the economy or for health, etc. They would work closely with principal officials in charge of the bureaus and chair the corresponding advisory committees," he said. Top officials prepared to leave the Government could also be appointed.
He cited current drawbacks with unofficial members of the Executive Council serving only part-time. "They are little known. They go to the Executive Council on Tuesday mornings, sometimes they say a few words to the press when they are coming out, and we don't see or hear of them until the next week, or maybe not at all. So they don't speak for policies. They don't speak for the Chief Executive. They don't help him with his work."
Sir David said members of a reformed Exco could be spokesmen for government policies in the Legislative Council, and held politically accountable. If there were a major error of judgment by an Exco member within his policy area, then he could be called upon to resign if necessary.
"This arrangement would spread the burden of responsibility and accountability, and reduce the responsibility for everything that happens from the Chief Executive," he said, adding that no amendment to the Basic Law would be needed to implement his proposals. Sir David said a precedent had been set by the resignation of former Housing Authority chief Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, who stepped down before a vote of no confidence by Legco over a series of piling scandals.
But he said the community should stop discussing any ministerial system modelled on the British parliamentary system, because provisions for the Government to be formed by the party which won in an election had no root in the Basic Law.
One academic described Sir David's suggestion as workable.
"It would at least be better for Mr Tung to have like-minded people helping with his policy initiatives, while civil servants can keep their political neutrality," Cheung Chor-yung, a social studies senior lecturer at City University, said.