Today Ming Pao Daily News published a commentary by Dr Wilson Wong on the latest controversy over Chief Executive-designate Leung Chun-ying's proposed restructuring of government bureaux. I can't agree more with his views that we need accountability but not more officials who are loyalists and protégés of the leader.
Yet Dr Wong raised an interesting question after making his point, "When will they ever learn?" It seems to me that Dr Wong is expecting someone in the administration taking office on 1 July this year would come to realise what accountability truly means and for whom it should have been in the first place. Pardon me for my scepticism, but I just think this is something stupid to ask. From my observations over the past years, I don't think it is a question of "when", but whether they would ever do.
And my proposed answer is "No".
Although "accountability" has become a buzzword since the first batch of so-called "accountable" principal officials were appointed in 2002, no one in the administrations of Mr Tung Chee-hwa, Sir Donald Tsang and now Mr Leung seem to have a clue of what they are really talking about.
In fact, we don't need a degree in political science but common sense to understand that accountability in the political context is meant taking responsibility for what the administration does for the people. The ultimate subject of accountability is, therefore, the people, but not anyone at the top of the administration at any point of time.
But how does it work? How do we know if the officials are taking responsibility for what they do for us? Sorry, I don't know. I don't think anyone in the government would do either. Although the official rhetoric has maintained that the principal officials are not civil servants but appointed on contract terms. Resignation, as the rhetoric says, is an expression of responsibility. Over the past 15 years, Mr Antony Leung, former financial secretary; Mrs Regina Ip, former secretary for security; and Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, former secretary for health, wealth and food did resign as a gesture of claiming responsibility for their personal and policy blunders.
Wait a minute. Is that all? Not being part of the civil service is just a device of political expediency, isn't it? What does it have to do with accountability? Of course I understand the fact that we in Hong Kong are still denied of a truly accountable political system based on universal suffrage, but is it possible that we come up with some sort of feasible mechanism to make up for the regrettable vacuum of governance mandate? Have we ever tried? By emphasising the "independence" or "detachment" of principal officials from the civil service, does it mean civil servants are not accountable for what they do? Is it some sort of implicit justification for all the inertia, inefficiencies and ridiculous red tapes?
Instead of pondering and tackling the fundamental problems with the so-called principal officials accountability system, once again the new government leaders are repeating the mistakes of their predecessors of sweating over nitty-gritty details of little importance. In the current case of expanding the number of policy secretaries, with the exception of establishing the long-due Bureau of Culture, it only seems to me that, as Dr Wong said, they are highly distrustful and sceptical of those currently working in the government and thus can't wait to install loyalists and protégés to key posts to ensure an ease of mind.
To be honest, I can't see any strong connection between the proposed government structure (again with the exception of the Bureau of Culture, which is by all means welcome) and Mr Leung's vision for Hong Kong. Why can't he try and work with the current system first, identify the weaknesses and then propose viable solutions for improvement? Why can't he wait?
For these reasons, I am pessimistic over the possibility of an old lesson to be learnt. It is not really a question of "when", but whether they ever will.