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LCQ15: Circulation of documents within the Government

     Following is a question by the Hon Gary Fan and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 8):


     It was reported that on November 22 last year, a total of over 100 people comprising Executive Council Members and senior officials such as politically appointed officials, the Permanent Secretaries of various policy bureaux and the heads of various government departments, attended a government internal seminar at which the Deputy Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress cum Chairman of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Basic Law Committee (BLC Chairman) spoke on the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage. Subsequently, the Office of the Chief Secretary for Administration issued a circular encouraging the Secretaries and Directors of Bureaux, Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Departments, Under Secretaries and Political Assistants to share with the senior civil servants in their bureaux/departments (B/Ds) the speech delivered by the BLC Chairman at the seminar. When circulating the speech internally, some departments even required civil servants who had read the speech to initial it for record. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the code it has drawn up on internal circulation of documents, and whether such a code has stipulated what documents or under what circumstances that civil servants should be required to initial the documents for record after reading them;

(b) of the foreign or mainland officials whose speeches were circulated by the Government among the politically appointed officials and civil servants in the past five years, and set out the details in the table attached;

(c) whether it has assessed if the authorities requesting civil servants to read documents issued or speeches delivered in Hong Kong by mainland officials relating to constitutional development and interpretation of the provisions of the Basic Law will undermine the political neutrality of civil servants and is in breach of the principle of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong"; and

(d) whether it has assessed if the participation of civil servants in the aforesaid seminar during office hours is an activity outside the scope of their duties and if the speech concerned is a document outside the scope of their duties; if it has conducted such an assessment and the outcome is in the affirmative, whether the Government has assessed if it has violated the terms of employment of civil servants by requiring them to participate in such activities and read such documents?



     The Chief Secretary for Administration holds regular meetings with politically appointed officials, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Departments to exchange views on important government policies and issues of social concern. Senior officials must keep abreast of major policy issues and help explain Government's position to stakeholders they come across in their daily work, foreign visitors they receive and interlocutors they meet during overseas visits. Therefore, the Government arranges from time to time talks on different policies and social issues for the participation of officials or provides relevant materials for their perusal in pursuit of effective governance.

     It is the common aspiration of the Central Authorities, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government and the Hong Kong general public to implement the election of the Chief Executive (CE) by way of universal suffrage in 2017 and to properly handle the work relating to the method for forming the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2016, strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant Interpretation and Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC). It is also the constitutional responsibility and an important policy objective of the current-term HKSAR Government. To prepare for the rolling out of the consultation on the methods for selecting the CE in 2017 and forming the LegCo in 2016, on behalf of the HKSAR Government, I have invited the Chairman of the HKSAR Basic Law Committee under the NPCSC, Mr Li Fei, and the Vice-Chairperson, Mr Zhang Rongshun, to visit Hong Kong, attending a seminar with politically appointed officials, Executive Council Members, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Departments, and meeting with different groups in the community to expound and exchange views on major issues of constitutional development that are in close association with the Basic Law. As Mr Li and Mr Zhang are Basic Law experts, their explanation is beneficial to our better understanding of the provisions on the constitutional development in Hong Kong as stipulated in the Basic Law and the design principles of Hong Kong's political structure.

     Mr Li's speech at the internal seminar organised by the Government on November 22 was subsequently released in full to the public. Internally, besides distributing the speech to politically appointed officials, Executive Council Members, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Departments, we also encouraged Heads of Departments to circulate it among senior staff of their departments. Given the profound importance of constitutional development to Hong Kong's long-term development, we hope that the entire civil service, senior staff in particular, will have a basic understanding of the constitutional development and the relevant articles of the Basic Law. Where appropriate, they can help promote the work on constitutional development when they meet with different stakeholders in their daily work so as to attain the election of the CE through universal suffrage in 2017. In fact, it is the duty of politically appointed officials and civil servants to have knowledge of the Basic Law for the purpose of supporting the HKSAR Government, headed by the CE, in the governance of Hong Kong in accordance with the law.

     My reply to the questions raised by Hon Gary Fan is as follows:

(a) and (b) There is no general rule governing the circulation of documents within the Government. As a general practice, Heads of Departments/Grades may, as and when they see fit, circulate articles or information materials relevant to their duties or important social issues to members of their departments/grades. It is up to the Heads of Departments/Grades to determine the manner of circulation. We do not have consolidated records on circulation of documents in various departments/grades.

(c) According to the Civil Service Code, "political neutrality" means that civil servants shall serve the CE and the Government of the day with total loyalty and to the best of their ability, no matter what their own political beliefs are. They shall not allow their own personal party political affiliation or party political beliefs to determine or influence the discharge of their official duties and responsibilities, including the advice they give and the decisions or actions they take. In this connection, the circulation of Mr Li's speech delivered at the internal seminar among senior civil servants for the purpose of a better understanding of the relevant provisions of the Basic Law on constitutional development is not in conflict with the political neutrality of the civil service, and in no way breaching the principle of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong".

(d) It is the responsibility of the civil servants to know about the Basic Law and assist the CE and the HKSAR Government in their governance in accordance with the law. To this end, the Government conducts regular training on the Basic Law for civil servants and, from time to time, invites outsiders to give such talks. Attending the November 22 seminar at which Mr Li was the speaker and reading his speech by civil servants are no different from attending other talks or reading relevant materials on the Basic Law.

Ends/Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Issued at HKT 17:16


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