Thursday, July 28, 2011

Boss and Master

The trendy words these few days are Boss and Master.  This is a very revealing and stimulating remark by the Mainland official making a lot of Hong Kong people jumping out to defend, for various reasons. Although each has his own angle, this remark actually has very deep meaning for civil servants and Executive Officers.

Are we now bosses and masters of Hong Kong after the handover?  Before 1997, Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom, ruled by colonial officials who were mostly civil servants as well.  However, many local policies were made by local senior civil servants.  But they did not consider themselves as bosses and masters with the Queen of England above their heads.  Now Hong Kong is a city of China enjoying special administrative region status.  We still make our own local policies but they are not very effective leading to the criticism that we cannot take care of our own house.  In principle, since the handover, the governance of Hong Kong changed from an autocratic style to a more democratic style.  We can hardly expect the ability of civil servants to disappear immediately upon the switch, but the changed political environment does make policy making more controversial.

Civil servants are certainly not bosses and masters to the society.  The modern sense of the civil service is servants to the general public.  In fact, what civil servants do are services to the public.  Boss and master in a generalized sense is that Hong Kong is not governed by the United Kingdom any more, and that the "Hong Kong people" are now bosses and masters of our own affairs.  If we focus on governance, a better way to say it is that we have the balance of three powers: executive, legislative and judicial.  For that, executive power means the "elected" officials, at least under an elected Chief Executive.

The question of policy formulation and policy implementation has been haunting us for a long time.  Many colleagues are aggrieved by the structure of the management of the government where Administrative Officers and Executive Officers are in separate grades although the basic job requirements are the same.  Executive Officers are deliberately suppressed as the middle management without any opportunity to advance to the top level.  One flimsy reason put forward then was that the two grades perform different functions:  Administrative Officers for policy formulation and Executive Officers for policy implementation.  We have been under this spell for quite some time.  Times are a-changing.  Now senior civil servants and Administrative Officers are relegated to performing policy implementation as well.

I was reading Peter Drucker in the last few weeks.  His theories on management and governance do not segregate policy formulation and implementation.  He advocates partnership and considers execution to be the most important action.  All ideas should come from front-line managers who really know what is going on around.  He thinks the most important leadership quality is putting people as the most important asset.  In his idiom, purposes and objectives are set by those from the outside, and there is a constant interactive relation between goal setting and real action.

This reminds me of the book Yes Minister which tells accurately, in a comical way, the relationship between cabinet ministers and civil servants in the United kingdom government.  Cabinet ministers are like our directors of bureau who are said to be policy makers.  In fact, the minister's office is very thin.  All support on resources, information and analyses, i.e. the meat of policy making, come from civil servants.  So the minister is steered by the civil servants based on the perceived popularity of a policy, and has to take the blame of failed policy.  Cabinets come and go, but the civil service stays put.  Actually, the civil servants are the policy makers, policy implementers, bosses and masters of the country all in one.

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【明報專訊】王光亞昨日於北京與60名赴京參與「大學生外交夏令營」的香港學生對話,對他們提出針對本港貧富懸殊、經濟發展,以及特首選舉的提問 均有問必答。被問及本港當前面對的深層矛盾為何時,王光亞主動提及本港師承英國的公務員制度。王光亞直言香港「成也英國,敗也英國」,指在港英治 下,英國人主導香港事務,培養出的香港公務員水平雖高,但只懂接受及執行指令,「完全培養的是civil servant (公僕),而未能培養對香港未來發展,加以政治上設計和長遠規劃的人才」。

他批評,縱然香港已回歸10多年,大部分公務員的心態卻是「叫我做什麼就做什麼…他們過去是聽Boss(老闆),現在自己當了Boss,都不知道 怎樣當Boss,怎樣當個Master(主人)」。他認為,特區政府應按香港的情况作長遠設計及規劃,各級官員更應「不僅把今天的事做好,而是要 把香港明天、後天,2年、3年、5年、10年以後的事要想好,設定好目標,自己設定政策,包括人才的培養,面向目標向前走」。

前保安局長、現立法會議員葉劉淑儀同意王光亞的言論,認為他「想得很通透」。她稱,香港公務員以效率及辦事能力高聞名,但欠缺當領導的視野及膽 識。葉太相信王光亞不是基於兩三件事件就貿然批評公務員,而是總結香港回歸後14年的經驗「有感而發」。不過,中大政治與行政學系高級導師蔡子強 認為,本港發展問責制,將制訂長遠政策的責任交予司局級官員,才是導致公務員缺乏方向的主因,他批評王光亞的言論「斷錯症,落錯藥」,對公務員有 欠公道。
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