Following is the speech by the Financial Secretary, Mr Henry Tang, for the Second Reading Debate of the Appropriation Bill 2004 in respect of Head 21 Chief Executive's Office:
Madam Chairman, I would like to thank Honourable Members for speaking on this subject, for this allows us the opportunity to talk about the work of the Chief Executive's Office (CE's Office).
Mr Cheung Man-kwong has proposed to reduce the 2004-05 Estimate of CE's Office by $1.9 million. In this respect, Mr Cheung proposes to delete the post of Senior Special Assistant (SSA).
Over the years, CE's Office has been following the Government's target in maximizing utilisation of resources, enhanced productivity and reducing expenditure. For 2004-05, the draft Estimate for the two programme areas of CE's Office stands at $59.76 million. This is a budget reflecting savings achieved through reduction of staffing and operating expenditure. Compared to the revised Estimate for the same programme areas in 2003-04, the Office will achieve savings of $1.3 million. In relation to the actual expenditure in 2002-03, a total of $4.8 million was saved. The savings are substantial taking into account the small share of overall government expenditure of the Office.
I must say that any further reduction of the provisions for CE's Office will seriously hamper its effective operation, which is not in the public interest. The Government is therefore strongly opposed to Mr Cheung's proposed amendment.
One main role of CE's Office is to ensure that CE receives the best advice and support for formulating and coordinating polices. In terms of operations, this involves a lot of networking, liaison and coordination. The SSA plays a vital role to advise CE in the handling of Mainland related issues and in liaising with the Central People's Government and Mainland organisations at the high level. This job is crucial to the work portfolio of CE's Office and the Government as whole.
The SSA is appointed on non-civil service terms. Employment of persons from outside the civil service to perform specific functions is common in the service, in fact, a long-standing practice. These non-civil service appointees do not form part of the civil service establishment. They cannot be promoted nor transferred to civil service posts. Therefore, they will not be blocking the promotion of staff members in the civil service.
CE's Office is committed to the target of the Government to cut down operating expenditure and establishment. However, any further reduction in addition to this would seriously prejudice the effective operation of CE's Office, which would be contrary to the public interest.
I therefore urge Honourable Members to oppose this amendment.
Ends/Wednesday, April 28, 2004