We heard the trumpet blowing that our government
is going to reform. Rumour has it that there will be
a chosen team of wise men and women loyal to the Chief
Executive taking charge. The group of ¡§Super Secretaries¡¨
will be politically adept, highly responsive to the
calls of the people and friendly with the Legislature.
Each ¡§Super Secretary¡¨ will each be given a well-defined
remit and be given a high degree of autonomy for its
implementation. Just like a successful corporation,
the rejuvenated ¡§Hong Kong Government Incorporated¡¨
will bring about a new culture of civil service. For
the wearied people of Hong Kong, now tired of an unwieldy
government bureaucracy, it sounds too good to be true!
However, despite the innumerable news reports and
commentaries that have been written and printed, we,
the public, are still just playing a guessing game.
The community and political circles remain in the dark
as to the final shape and form of the momentous change
to our government and political structure. With the
clock set to start running on 1 July 2002, time is not
really on our side.
The public is rightly curious to know what benefits
this new structure of government will bring. Will it
introduce a more efficient and accountable government?
Will this mean a more stable and effective leadership?
Or will the new design be tailored to help only the
Chief Executive tighten his grip on civil servants and
further insulate himself from attacks by hostile critics
and political rivals? Top civil servants want to know
how the new structure affects their future career. An
even more immediate concern is who are going to be their
new bosses! To be sure, senior politicians and political
parties will be weighing their chance of forming a power
sharing arrangement with the coming executives. The
business sector and the thousands of interest groups
are feeling restless in sizing up the future and feel
uncertain about this new balance of power. All wish
to be properly consulted before a final decision is
made. It should never be left as a mere compromise solution
derived from an internal power struggle between the
Chief Executive and a few top civil servants.
In an ¡§executive-lead¡¨ government, the most desirable
outcome of this change is more effectual leadership.
In the context of public governance, this does not necessarily
mean allowing a one-man dictatorship. I would hope to
see a better balance of power that would minimise internal
conflict between executives, civil servants and the
This level of harmony cannot possibly be achieved
by a randomly selected and hastily put together pool
of good people. The executive team must share a common
vision for Hong Kong. They must remain closely knit
and be loyal enough to defend one another in public.
These wise men and women are also expected to endure
considerable sacrifices on a personal level for the
privilege to serve. They will probably need time to
ponder before reaching a decision, to prepare for the
new political roles ahead and to build up rapport with
the others to function as a team. They should not be
simply treated as dispensable tools or political foot
soldiers appointed to carry out some pre-determined
plans. They must be given reasonable powers to ¡§hire
and fire¡¨ their own staff and be guaranteed a minimum
level of financial resources covering the entire period
of their appointment. Otherwise, the lack of political
chips and bargaining power will leave them totally vulnerable
on the frontline with predatory politicians and possibly
a grudging staff.
I accept that the majority of the appointees should
be current or former policy secretaries. This will ensure
a high degree of continuity and also publicly recognize
the fact that these are the men and women best suited
for the job. However, they should not appoint an extra
career secretary as their aide since they are doing
much the same job as before. As for the few outside
appointees, they should at least have a clear track
record of public service and adequate first-hand experience
in dealing with politicians and the media.
In order for this change to succeed, there is simply
no room for last minute expediency. The selected cabinet
team must be much more than a fortuitous collection
of administrators with a summation of individual agendas.
The more ambitious political thinkers have even suggested
that the Chief Executive might kill two birds with one
stone by appointing into his inner cabinet a desired
number of influential like-minded political leaders.
This would undoubtedly create a formidable political
alliance. Desirable as this goal might be, the difficulties
in making it work cannot be under-estimated.
Our government must recognise the fact that the recent
development of political parties will require a more
refined definition of an ¡§executive-lead¡¨ government.
It can no longer be the case that top executives make
a decision ¡§corporate-style¡¨ behind closed doors and
then send their managers out to do battle with detailed
instructions. Good politicians, unlike civil servants
and corporate managers, will follow a leader only if
he leads the charge, with integrity and charisma.
The Chief Executive must be a good listener with an
open mind. A fair mediator who is able to balance complex
and often conflicting interests. A decisive commander-in-chief
who calls for immediate action when action is necessary
needed. He must be a true moral - even a spiritual -
leader who can win over the hearts and minds of his
appointees rather than just be seen as exploiting their
bodies and political goodwill. Otherwise, the moment
he loose popularity with his policies, this fragile
alliance will begin to crumble beneath his feet. Even
if his chosen appointees do not abandon him, there is
always the risk that the political party that the appointee
seeks to represent might wish to disassociate with the
unpopular government. This type of fragile coalition
will only work with the most sensitive and creative
of leadership - one that has a clear understanding with
all political parties concerned. Given that consensus
politics can be a lengthy evolutionary process, it is
almost inconceivable that a lasting alliance can be
built within such a short space of time.
Hong Kong has an abundant supply of talent ready to
serve every role in society. They just need the right
environment and chance to prove themselves. However,
we must allow sufficient time for the community to understand
and embrace a change of this significant magnitude.
We need to spell out clearly the terms and conditions
of service early so that the best candidates might come
forward. In order to prevent unrealistic expectations,
the government must also allow sufficient time for open
discussions so that the merits and limitations of the
scheme can be more widely understood. It is now time
for stumbling blocks to be removed and a community consensus
Credit: Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy
Functional Constituency Representative. For more information,
refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org.