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Hong Kong: New Civil Service System Unveiled - 2002-04-17

Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, has unveiled a new system that would control Hong Kong's civil service established under British colonial rule. It's the first major change in the territory's government since Hong Kong's reunification with China in 1997. Critics see Mr. Tung's reform as a way to strengthen his grip on power.

The new system calls for a layer of political appointees to assume control over bureaus currently run by top civil servants.

Mr. Tung says the ministers, unlike the current department heads, will be more accountable to the public and make the government more efficient. In the last two policy addresses I have emphasized that the purpose of introducing the accountability system is to enable principal officials of the SAR government to assume responsibility for policy portfolios, to share a common agenda and to have clear directions, he said.

Mr. Tung promised that the changes would move power away from the top leadership position and give more authority to the executive council.

But many legislators disagree and say Mr. Tung is only tightening his hold on power.

During a debate, lawmaker Yeung Sum raised this concern, asking what the new system would mean for the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government. It's said in the basic law that the executive should be accountable to the legislature, he said. So if Legco passes a vote of no confidence concerning a particular official will you accept Legco's decision?

Mr. Tung replied he would consider the views of the legislative branch, but wouldn't necessarily act on them.

Many legislators have criticized Mr. Tung for the secrecy in which the drafting of the new system has been shrouded.

The civil servants themselves have expressed fear many of their British educated and London-appointed top ranks will be replaced by Mr. Tung's appointees, and consolidation of the various departments will lead to layoffs.