Thoughts on Government
Sir David Akers-Jones, former Chief Secretary, was the Foundation's guest speaker on 9 March 2005. This is a summary of his remarks.
He had joined the Hong Kong Government in 1957, and retired from it in 1987, Sir David said. In the almost-twenty years since then, he had been very busy. And now he had assumed the presidency of the Business and Professionals Federation (BPF), the founder and former Chairman Vincent Lo having just stepped down.
The BPF had produced a paper on the Accountability System. People criticized the system, said it was not working, that it should be abandoned. But in terms of outcomes, the system had in fact worked.
It was not the system that was wrong, but the way it had been implemented. One problem was the disposition of ministerial portfolios. The Secretary responsible for Housing was also the Chairman of the Housing Authority. That was fine. But the Chairman of the Hospital Authority was not the Secretary of Health. The powers were split. Moreover, the Secretary for Health was also the Secretary for Welfare. Health and welfare were both big ticket items - each should have a minister of its own. Not all ministers needed to be members of Exco. Junior ministers would be a good idea.
Education and Manpower was another anomalous portfolio. Education was a full time job for a minister. But so was Manpower - with unemployment, the professions, training, etc. The present post needed to be split into two. Environment and Transport was another example. Both areas were very important; each deserved a minister to itself. Anomalies of this sort needed to be tidied up, fundamentally sorted out.
The current practice of promoting mainly civil servants to the ministerial posts was not appropriate either. That had not been the BPF's intention. As a consequence, there was no proper discussion in Exco, no real formation of a cabinet that could take an overall view. Each minister looked after his own portfolio - as civil servants were trained to do. It was another instance of poor implementation.
The problem was that the Government had not moved forward since the McKinsey review in 1972, which established the secretarial system. The government had not moved forward in its thinking, or in fact thought about it at all.
The composition of Exco had been fundamentally changed by Chris Patten. Until then there had been overlap between Legco and Exco membership, but overnight, he had removed all Legco members from Exco except Lydia Dunn. There was thus no link between the two bodies. Now moves were being made to restore the link. Sir David hoped that after 2008, leaders of at least the major political parties would be brought in to Exco.
Another area that needed examination was the Chief Executive's Office. If one looked at the telephone book, one would see that it was very thin. For example, WK Lam had resigned and was not replaced. Elsewhere in the world, premiers had very extensive resources to keep in touch with what was happening in their governments. But in Hong Kong there was no one to do this job.
Summing up, Sir David wished to see more junior ministers, the splitting up of ministerial posts, and linkage between the minister and the respective quango. This last point was not an innovation. The first chairman of the Transport Advisory Board had been a senior member of Exco. It was important to link the minister with the respective policy advisory body.
Overall, a lot of housekeeping had to be done in the Hong Kong government. There was dust and dirt everywhere. That was why the accountability system had not worked.
The BPF had given thought to the future post-2008. They feared that if something was not done, there would be demonstrations for universal suffrage, which would run into conflict with China's wish to see gradual and orderly progress. How could the desires of both sides be met, particularly if, as China had stated, any increase in the number of directly-elected legislators had to be matched by an increase in the number of functional constituency seats?
The BPF's solution was to put the functional constituencies into a second chamber. The directly-elected members would make up the first chamber - and the number could be raised from the present 30 to 50 or 60. It would also be necessary to tidy up the functional constituencies. Some had too many responsibilities, i.e. their scope was too broad, while there was no representation at all for some important social themes such as the environment and sustainability. Some, like recreation/culture/sport, needed to be split up.
What powers should the second chamber have? In many countries such as Australia or the US, the second chamber comprised state-level representatives, while other countries had appointed members. Normally, the second chamber had the power to delay legislation. For example, just recently in Britain the House of Lords had delayed the ban on hunting, until the Government had been obliged to invoke the Parliament Act to get the legislation through. The BPF had not spelt out what powers the second chamber should have, merely that it should not have the power of veto.
Sir David believed that the establishment of a fully-directly-elected first chamber, without the functional constituencies, would effect a fundamental change. The politics would be transformed. This was a separate matter from the method of electing the Chief Executive. On the latter, Sir David hoped that the process would be loosened up in 2007, and that there would be further progress in 2012.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.