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Dear friends,

I am most appreciative of your valuable views and having taken such a lot of time to read all the materials etc. I have now voted 'yes' and give you my account of the events leading to, and reasons for, making such a decision. I hope you can bear with me.

The attachment is an exract / translated text of my LegCo speech in English (done in rush inside the LegCo chamber). A full speech in Chinese should have been faxed to those of you who can read the language. Please call me at 2827 8663 if you wish to comment on any aspect of my work at all. Again, I enjoy hearing from you and am grateful for your advice.

Eric Li


Public Officers Pay Adjustment Bill

Extract /Translation of my LegCo Speech-10/7/2002

LegCo members from Functional Constituencies would judge an issue taking account of his personal views as well as those of his constituency and the wider public interests. I have warned the Administration well before the introduction of the Bill and advised them that it would unnecessarily politicize the issue and divides the community. My initial reaction to the Bill was one of sympathy with our civil servants that are going to be deprived of their existing contract rights and any entitlement of compensation. Some legislators joined me to write to the Government on the 18 June believing that with the time still on our hands the matter can be better handled. I also wrote A Letter to HK 'Fair Means to Achieve Fair Pay' and proceeded to consult accountants on the issue shortly afterwards.


Accountants reaction

The Council was briefed and consulted and 557 letters sent out. I also sorted views on my web-site and specifically talked to representatives from the public sector in greater depth.

From the 55 responses (9.9%) received, 31 supported the proposed legislation and 24 against. Worthy to note is not the 56.4% support from a small sample but that only one opposition came from an accountant from civil service who simply phoned my office to say 'no'. Other against votes mostly came from close friends who knew me well and supported my apparent inclination to uphold the principles of treating civil servants fairly and the spirit of contract law. They share the view that there might be other better, but perhaps slower, ways to handle the pay cut and the small price to pay for a short delay is worth it. The costs of disrupting the harmony of the community and the possible impact on our international reputation are even higher.

The supporters of legislation came from a wider background and hold much stronger views. In summary, they think that if the civil servants had already agreed to a mild reduction in pay then I must not accept an 'technical' objection to the relevant legislation that will give it the necessary legal backing. Even if the legislation seemed unfair to civil servants, the fact that their salaries had been far higher than those in the private sector for a long time is also 'unfair' to tax payers. If the legislation is not passed, the rest of the community will suffer from the instability and other dire financial consequences i.e. serious structural budget deficits and possible tax increases; the criticisms of 'lamp-duck Government' both locally and from overseas etc. Besides, the Singaporean civil servants had already co-operated to accept even steeper pay cuts and contributed towards the recovery of the economy.

I thank their honest and valuable views. However, the views from our accountant colleagues in Government are really unexpected. In a meeting with representatives from the IRD, Audit Commission, Treasury, Hospital Authority, Tertiary Institutions and other statutory bodies, the unanimous views that I received was that despite the ill feeling they have on the Bill, almost all accountants within their contact are quite reconciled and unemotional about the Bill. Most accepted the economic reality of the times and the notion that they too bear public responsibilities to make some small personal sacrifices for the public good. In particular, if it helps to resolve the endless debates and media attack on the civil servants. They also expressed the view that the Chief Executive's promises of 'one-off legislation' and 'will not affect existing pension rights' are helpful, as it was their main worry. In the circumstances, they would understand and accept a 'yes' vote by me.

It seems that in our very rational constituency, some of us from outside the civil service felt righteous to ensure fair play for our counterparts in the civil service. Ironically, those from the inside felt that they could live with some personal sacrifices to end the community's misery!

The intense lobbying efforts from the Government may not have persuaded me but it is a clear signal that our mediation efforts will not bear fruits. The Government and unions are both determined to take a collision course. In deciding my vote, which is now unavoidable, I kept the following principles:

(1) Do not get drawn into the fight between the Government and Civil Servants or act like a judge;

(2) Will ensure CE keep his open promise in future; and

(3) Ignore the debate on who is right and who is wrong but focus on what is best for the wider public interests and go straight to the most logical solution as if this is a simple, normal labour dispute between an employer and employee.

The public opinion is clear on the last point and civil servants accept modest pay cuts. Even if we cannot dissuade the Government from deploying unfair tactics, at least we can end up with the correct and undisputed solution in the end. This is also consistent with our original intention that 'we would do everything we can to protect the innocent third parties from any direct harm' in this, what is essentially a subject matter of 'internal management' of the Administration. The vote is also consistent with my reading of the sentiments of the accountancy functional constituency.

 

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