Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Not When, But Will They Ever Learn?

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.


  1. Anonymous7:12 pm



  2. 謝謝留言。我同意你的看法,文化局的確未必增加發展文化藝術的資源,也未必有助文化藝術的發展。畢竟何謂「文化藝術」?光是文化圈子已經可以爭得頭崩額裂。所以,我也不會對文化局有太大期望。但是,今時真的不同往日了,人心已變,以往港英政府那一套,如今未必管用。以往觀眾大多目不識丁,卻可以支持那麼多有分量的文字媒體和表演藝術。如今教育普及,觀眾水平沒有隨著教育水平提高,反而有下降的跡象,粵劇就是很好的例子。多少觀眾看了任白戲寶數十年,連曲詞內容也是不求甚解,只知「戲服靚不靚」、「誰誰誰像不像任姐」?文化局未必能做到多少,但總算是一次新的嘗試。如果委任文化界人士擔任局長,雖然難脫政治分贓、粉飾太平的嫌疑,但既然固有的模式已經失去效用(或者從來沒啥效用),說是死馬當作活馬醫也好,何不給大家一次機會?


Thank you for your comment. It will be published after moderation by the blogger to avoid spam messages. Thank you in advance for your understanding.