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Team Buiding Essential to Lead Hong Kong

 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 Legislature.

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 built.

Credit: Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative. For more information, refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org.

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