Pay and accountability initiatives to reform public sector
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Two initiatives were introduced this year to restructure the public sector-reform of the civil service pay policy and system and the appointment of principal officials who will be held accountable for the success or failure of their policies. How does the government's latest attempt to reform the system differ from previous similar attempts in terms of content and background? Is this an opportune time for implementing such reforms? What are the main obstacles to their successful implementation?
A comprehensive revamp of pay policy
"The return of
Unfortunately, it also turned out to be an inopportune time, with unemployment on the rise and the Asian economic downturn. Civil servants took to the streets and held rallies to show their opposition to the reforms, and the government backed down.
Political skill required to implement reforms
While the pay reform, once well in place, may mean farewell to the "iron rice-bowl" culture, it should by no means spell an end to stable careers. "The public and private sectors will still be different," he said, "and, though it will no longer be of overriding importance, stability is very important to the former. So, ideally, the civil service could still offer the opportunity for a lifelong career, if one performs well."
Accountability system a dramatic shift in style
A further significant reform in the public sector is the accountability system for principal officials, possibly the most dramatic shift in the system of governance since
In April this year, the Chief Executive unveiled the framework of the accountability system in Legco. In addition to making principal officials more responsible for their actions, the primary objectives of the system, he told legislators, are to improve response to community needs, coordination in policy formulation, and cooperation between the executive and legislative arms, and ensure more effective policy implementation and the provision of better quality services to the public. The new system was implemented on 1 July this year, when Mr Tung began his second five-year term of office.
Under the new arrangement, the Secretaries of Departments and Directors of Bureaux will be political appointees from inside and outside the civil service who have been nominated by the Chief Executive for appointment by the central government. They will not be civil servants and their term of contract will not exceed the term of the Chief Executive who nominated them. There will be a total of 14 principal officials under the new system, comprising three Secretaries of Departments and 11 Directors of Bureaux. They will assume key portfolios, make policy, run the 190,000-strong civil service, and report directly to the Chief Executive.
Dr James Sung, a lecturer in CityU's
Being in the frontline will enable the new principal officials to become more sensitive to popular sentiment and proactive in gaining public support. The replacement of career civil servants with political appointees, who can be sacked only by the Chief Executive, will allow Mr Tung to pick his own policy team without his choices being subject to the civil service rules of promotion and transfer, Dr Sung said.
Challenges for the government
Great changes are in store for
How can the government overcome these challenges? The economic challenge, Dr Sung believes, is by no means the most important, given the fair condition of
The principal officials accountability system will expand the powers of the executive branch and expose the government to greater political risks. The principal officials will have to perform well to deserve the support of the government, the Chief Executive, and the public. And given the current challenging socio-political climate, Dr Sung said, they will have to be candidates with great political competence, confidence and skill.