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CS speaks at public sector reform conference (English only)(with photo)

Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Rafael Hui, at the plenary session of a public sector reform conference at Asia World-Expo, Lantau, this (April 3) morning (English only):

Ms Chen (Xiaozhu), Ms (Patricia) Faulkner, Mr (Philip) Chen , Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I am delighted to welcome you to the 2006 Public Sector Reform Conference. I am especially pleased to welcome our international guests and speakers. We look forward to hearing your experiences in public sector reform. And I hope our local speakers will in turn provide you with some thought-provoking ideas to take home.

Public Sector Reform

As its title indicates, today's conference is about the challenges and opportunities for everyday management and delivery of services to the public. The reform of public management is a journey íV a continuous process of improvement.

We in Hong Kong are justly proud of a civil service that plays a critical role in meeting the needs and aspirations of our community. Nonetheless, as with all human endeavours, to stand still is to risk decline. Throughout the developed world, during the 1980s and '90s, many governments realised that their public sector organisations had stood still for too long. So they embarked on reform programmes, with names such as Reinventing Government in the US, and Modernising Government in Britain. On our part, over a similar period, we have introduced Policy Objective setting, Performance Pledges for customer satisfaction, Trading Funds to develop better-managed services, the Enhanced Productivity Programme and the Economy Drive.

More recently, we have increased the use of technology through the Digital 21 strategy, and pursued a significant programme of outsourcing and other forms of private sector involvement in the delivery of public services.

Our focus has been to improve services and increase productivity. And in large part we have been successful. Through all these initiatives, we have kept public expenditure at less than 25% of GDP íV and for 2006-07, we are forecasting only 18%. Since 1997, we have reduced the number of civil servants by about 17%. And we have continued to meet much of the public demand for expanded services without compromising quality. To balance the demand for services with resource constraints, Bureaus and Departments have undertaken many individual initiatives to maximise efficiency, minimise costs and improve service delivery.

Government services, however, must not only be efficient and effective in their own right; they also must contribute to the wider economy. So, it is encouraging that our GDP grew 7.3% in 2005; that we forecast an operating surplus for 2005-06, three years ahead of schedule; and that we are one of the world's leading business centres, the world's freest economy for the past decade, and the world's most services-oriented economy.

Opportunities and Challenges

Despite this success, we cannot rest on our laurels. We live in an era of ever-greater globalisation. Throughout its history, Hong Kong's position has often enabled it to take particular advantage of globalisation íV but this may not always be the case. There are growing challenges from other cities in our region, and elsewhere in the world. In setting our course, we must benchmark ourselves against the best achieved by other economies, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region with whom we compete for investment dollars. In a services-based economy like ours, overseas investors can now move quickly and easily to set up operations here. But they can also move out with equal ease. To maintain our competitive advantage, we need to continue to ensure that Hong Kong provides a business-friendly environment, including an effective and well-managed public sector.

Technology also is both an opportunity and a challenge. While enabling us to be more effective and efficient, it also allows our competitors to catch up rapidly or even overtaking us. Technology, I am pleased to say, is well used in much of Hong Kong's public sector. And its benefits are understood and appreciated. In fact, Hong Kong was the top Asian performer in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2005 e-readiness rankings, thanks to innovative development of e-business services, a positive legal and policy environment, and advances in mobile services. This is a position that will stand us in good stead in the global race, and a position we must strive to maintain.

Another challenge is the rise in public expectations. Individuals and businesses do not see themselves as supplicants to the government. They see themselves as having entitlements that public servants are expected to satisfy.  As you know, people-based government is one of the central themes of the Donald Tsang's Administration. It is a theme based not only on the rising tide of expectations, but also on our understanding that we have the opportunity to improve our citizens' satisfaction with our services while improving our own efficiency.

Of course, along with opportunities and challenges, are barriers to change. Some of the steps taken to advance our people-based services and their delivery have made headlines that, unfortunately, have not always been positive. But negative publicity should come as no surprise. Reform means change.  And change creates concern and uncertainty for those affected íV concern for jobs, and uncertainty about how new structures, processes and technologies will work. We will address these concerns with compassion and professionalism. But when the benefits of change are clear and significant, we must proceed with determination.

Current Action

Through the People-based Services Programme, developed by the Efficiency Unit, we are taking steps to understand much more thoroughly what Hong Kong citizens want, and to further enhance their experience of interacting with the Government. Let me give you a few examples.

First, we are conducting a number of surveys and focus groups to gauge citizen satisfaction in key service areas. Some of these are district-based, and we hope the results will give us a better understanding of citizens' views and expectations about the delivery of public services in their own districts.

Second, we are developing a one-stop youth portal so Hong Kong's young people can conveniently access a full range of public services related to education, career development, health, sports, leisure, culture, social work and civic education. Some of you may have attended last month's launch ceremony of the youth portal design competition. This is a first step for us to discover young people's expectations for the portal, and for them to inject their creativity and innovation into its development.

We also are looking at initiatives to manage our performance more economically and effectively. For example, we are using technology to create highly efficient new citizen-centric services.  Our Integrated Call Centre provides the public with convenient single-telephone-number access to information on a range of public services. It handles more than 2 million enquiries a year on behalf of 14 Government Departments.  Citizens can access the 24-hour service by calling either the relevant departmental hotline or an easy-to-remember number. And it costs less to deliver than the more limited and fragmented services previously provided. Our next challenge is to build on this successful approach to develop a Licensing Support Centre to streamline licensing procedures for businesses.

My final example is involving the private sector to achieve greater flexibility and cost effectiveness in service delivery. Almost every Department now makes some use of the private sector to perform tasks that were once done in-house entirely by civil servants. This helps to implement the policy of 'small government, big market', while fulfilling our promise to enhance people-based government. We also are considering a number of development projects in which the public and private sectors can co-operate further íV including water and sewage treatment, solid waste management facilities, recreational and cultural projects, and a new sports stadium.

It is pretty clear, then, that we in Hong Kong are not lacking in ideas or initiatives to fulfil our pledge to apply further people-based public sector reform programmes while maintaining our small government policy. We have committed and talented people throughout the public sector, and initiatives unfolding before us that address the issue of effective and sustainable reform. But we are always keen to learn new ways to cope with the conflicts inherent in providing and delivering better services on the back of reduced expenditure. And so, we are privileged to have with us today and tomorrow many highly qualified and experienced practitioners who can share with us how they and their organisations are tackling their own reform programmes.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to point out that although Performance Management and People-based Services will be addressed in parallel streams at this Conference, they are not mutually exclusive. Our challenge is to excel in both, taking full advantage of the modern methods, expertise and technology at our disposal.

I would like to wish the 2006 Public Sector Reform conference every success. Thank you.

Ends/Monday, April 3, 2006
Issued at HKT 11:39