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Preparing Civil Service for the Challenges Ahead


Following is a speech by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, at the 2001 Institute of Human Resource Management(IHRM) Annual Conference today (November 22) :

Lady President, Mr Tsui, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here today at this annual conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management. The theme of this conference 'People Business over Turbulence' is a timely one. Despite the recent rebound in the stock markets, I believe we have yet to witness the beginning of an economic recovery in Hong Kong. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that Hong Kong have had worse times in the past and always managed to recover stronger than before. So we should not let the current set-back deter us nor make us lose our focus. Instead, we should make full use of this opportunity to improve the quality of our services and the competitiveness of our people.

For us in Government, the extent of success in riding through these difficult times is dependent very much on the ability of our biggest asset, our civil servants, to rise to and embrace the challenges of our community. This is not the first time, and it will not be the last, when civil servants are put to the test. In a way, we have been preparing ourselves for the challenges by working continuously to modernize the management of the civil service and to invest in the training and development of our staff. Today, I would like to share with you what we have done in the past two years and what we will be doing in the future to enable the civil service to keep pace with the changing times. Specifically, I will touch on the Civil Service Reform, nurturing a customer service culture in the civil service and promoting continuous learning among civil servants.

Civil Service Reform


We like to think that the Hong Kong Civil Service plays an important role in maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. That we have an efficient and clean civil service is always cited by overseas businessmen and investors as an important factor in choosing Hong Kong as a place to do business or to invest. Likewise, citizens in Hong Kong realize the importance of an effective and non-corrupt Civil Service as one of the most stabilizing factors. In the Civil Service Bureau which I lead, our vision is to foster a dynamic, visionary and knowledge-based Civil Service for delivery of quality service to the community through a clean, trustworthy and fulfilled workforce. Since the handover, the community has come to expect much more from the Hong Kong SAR Government. This points to the need to continuously improve the quality and efficiency of our services.

Against this background, we launched the Civil Service Reform in 1999. In the last two years, we have successfully implemented a package of reform initiatives, and I would like to briefly outline the major areas.

Entry System


While a clear and stable career development structure is important in the recruitment and retention of good calibre people, we believe there is room for more flexibility in the entry system. This is needed to provide better quality assurance on the one hand and to facilitate the exchange of talents between the Civil Service and the private sector on the other.

Since last year, we introduced a new and more flexible entry system and terms of appointment for new recruits. Under the new system, most recruits to the Civil Service are appointed initially on probationary terms for 3 years, to be followed by a 3-year agreement before they could be considered for appointment on permanent terms. Those whose performance is unsatisfactory, or who do not demonstrate longer term potential for advancement would have their probation or agreements terminated. This system ensures that only good calibre candidates are retained in the Civil Service and allows for regular intake of new blood.

This year, and for the first time, we are conducting an open recruitment to the rank of Senior Administrative Officer, the first promotional rank of Administrative Officer Grade, the Government's elite management grade, in order to attract talents with experience and expertise who may otherwise not join the Civil Service at the basic rank. We have received 2,600 applications and the recruitment is in progress. We expect the new recruits to join us by the middle of next year.

Civil Service Provident Fund


Concurrent to the changes we have made to the appointment system, we are developing a Civil Service Provident Fund Scheme to replace the pension system for recruits who subsequently progress into permanent terms of appointment. The new retirement benefits system will allow employees to carry their retirement benefits when switching jobs between the Civil Service and the private sector. This will ensure that the retirement protection system of the Civil Service will not hinder the intake of outside candidates of good quality. The new Provident Fund Scheme will be put in place in 2003.

Exit System


The Government firmly believes in the principle of small government. We are continuously reviewing and simplifying our organizational structure with a view to providing more efficient services to the public. In anticipation of the emergence of surplus staff in certain grades, we implemented a Voluntary Retirement Scheme last year for 59 designated grades. More than 9,000 applications have been approved. Under this scheme, when the successful applicants leave, the same number of posts in these grades will be deleted. The introduction of this scheme will achieve substantial savings amounting to almost $1 billion a year. This scheme, together with our other manpower review plans, will help reduce our Civil Service establishment from 198,000 in March 2000 to 181,000 in March 2003.

In addition to the Voluntary Retirement Scheme, we have also introduced a Management Initiated Retirement Scheme which allows management to initiate early retirement of directorate civil servants to facilitate organizational improvement. The scheme helps to facilitate the injection of new blood where necessary and to maintain the quality of senior officers who play a leading role in shaping or implementing Government policies and progress.

Pay and Fringe Benefits


We revised the starting salary levels for new recruits last year to keep pace with changes in the private sector. The starting salaries for new recruits have been lowered by as much as 30%. We also introduced a new package on fringe benefits based on private sector practices. We are conscious of performance-based pay system in the private sector. We have embarked on a pilot scheme on team-based performance rewards in six departments. We are working with these departments and their staff to draw up reward schemes to suit their operational and staffing situation.

Customer Service Culture


Since 1990s, major efforts have been made to nurture a customer service culture in the civil service. We have launched a customer service programme which requires departments to make performance pledges, to inform the public what services are available, and to set up Customer Service Liaison Groups to obtain customer feedback. We also organize staff motivation schemes to award outstanding performers and to motivate them to make continuous improvements.

In 1999, we launched an annual service-wide Customer Service Award Scheme to further promote customer service culture in the Civil Service. IHRM has been very supportive of this scheme and takes part in the adjudication process every year. I sincerely thank it for the expert advice and the assistance it has given us so far.

The Scheme is now in its third year and for the first time, we are involving the public in the voting process. We have issued questionnaires to 30,000 households a few weeks ago to select the departments which they consider are providing the best customer service. The prize presentation ceremony and a large-scale exhibition displaying the services of 48 departments will be held at the Hong Kong Central Library in early February 2002. I invite you to visit the exhibition.

Continuous Learning


In this knowledge-based era, we fully recognize the need and importance of inculcating a continuous learning culture among civil servants. Only by building up our capacity will we be able to keep ourselves abreast if not ahead of the game. We spend about $1 billion a year on staff training. Last year, we injected an additional $50 million for a three-year Training and Development Programme. The programme will provide an additional 90,000 training places, more self-learning packages, an expanded Cyber Learning Centre, and a Training Incentive Scheme to sponsor civil servants to attend employment related courses of their personal choice.

We will soon request departments to draw up comprehensive annual Departmental Training and Development Plans so as to align the training and development of their staff with the departments' strategic objectives and operational requirements. We will also issue a Leadership Development Guide to all directorate staff to assist our senior staff to map out their own learning road map. We expect them to serve as role models for the rest of their departments or organizations.

The Way Forward


In the coming year, we shall see through the implementation of the Civil Service Reform measures currently underway and consolidate our achievements. We shall ensure that under the new measures, the Civil Service will be leaner and more efficient. Efforts will continue in deepening the customer service and learning cultures among civil servants.

To further modernize the Civil Service management system, we will embark on a major review of civil service rules and regulations to identify further scope for simplification and streamlining of procedures. The aim is to enhance efficiency and achieving economy of resources through greater devolution of responsibilities to departments. In the process, we will take full account of the community's expectations for better service, increased transparency and greater accountability of the Civil Service.

In closing, I would just like to reiterate what I said at the beginning, that we should all look at the current difficulties as an opportunity and work towards bringing out the best in our people to ride through the turbulence.

I wish the annual conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management every success.

Thank you.

End/Thursday, November 22, 2001


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