Post-service Employment of Civil Servants
8th October 2009
Given the close nexus between tycoons and Government here in the Big Lychee,
not least because you can't get elected as Chief Executive without the support of
the tycoons and their gofers in the
Election Committee, there is increasing public focus on the relationships at
the working level, between the senior civil servants and the business world.
The issue isn't helped by the fact that anyone recruited before 1-Jul-1987
retirement age of 55, so there are quite a few people still in the service
(anyone who was under 33 in 1987) who will be leaving the nest and making their
way out into the community in the next few years. Since 1987, the pensionable
age has been 60, still leaving plenty of time to top up that iron rice-bowl
defined-benefit pension scheme (which only became an MPF-style
defined-contribution scheme for recruitments after 1-Jun-00).
As HK-based readers will be well aware, there is an ongoing
Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry into the employment by
New World China Land Ltd (NWCL)
of former Permanent Secretary for Housing Mr
Leung Chin Man (Mr Leung). A
report from the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) on 15-Aug-08 mentioned the procedures by which former Directorate-level civil servants must seek
permission to accept employment during certain periods after they leave the
Civil Service. The "control period" depends on seniority, as there are at least
8 levels of Directorate - the details are set out in
CSB Circular 10/2005 and applied to people retiring on or after 1-Jan-06.
The not-so-public register
As the CSB report mentions in paragraph 19, for approved outside work taken
up by officers at grade D4 or above, information on the employment "will be
placed on a register for public inspection on request". Great, we thought. Some
transparency, to enable members of the public to spot any potential conflicts of
interest, rewards, or non-compliance with the restrictions on employment. So we
looked on the CSB web site for this "public register" but could not find it. In
response to inquiries from Webb-site.com,
Jenny Cheung Ching for the CSB confirmed that:
"Members of the public may conduct physical inspection of the
register on request. In addition, we also process enquiries through e-mail."
This is ridiculous. What they are basically saying is that if you don't come
looking for it (and identify yourself), we won't give it to you. This is a
government which claims to be pursuing a
Digital 21 strategy
of e-government, but when it suits it, everything is offline. Imagine the cost
of labour to process each individual request by e-mail instead of simply posting
it on a web site. You're paying for it through your taxes. By comparison, you
will find similar registers for
Executive Councillors and
After the CSB had e-mailed us the files in the "public register", we noticed that
at least one was missing - the case file approving Mr Leung's employment by
NWCL. We asked again, and CSB explained that after a civil servant ceases the
said employment, or his "control period" expires (whichever comes first), then
the approval file is removed from the register. Since Mr Leung resigned from
NWCL on 16-Aug-08, after 16 days in the job, almost as soon as the controversy
blew up (and 2 days before we asked for the register), the file was no longer on
the public register. So there you have another Hong Kong example of something
being published and then "unpublished" by the Government.
Clearly this file and others like it are a matter of public interest after
the employment ceases - if there is any question of post-service reward for
favours done by a civil servant, then the issue does not go away after the
employment reward ends. Secondly, it is simply silly to put things in the public
domain and then expect that they can be removed, as we pointed out in the
SFC's redaction of information in its
own press-release archive.
This must be the only government in the world that tries to create official
secrets out of public documents rather than the other way around. Next, they
will try to make steam go back into a kettle.
So here's what we are going to do. To make it easier for the public to
inspect the register, until the Government starts publishing it online, we will
request the files by e-mail on a monthly basis and publish them on
Webb-site.com. Of course, if someone is granted approval and then quickly
resigns their new employment within one month, like Mr Leung did, then we won't
be able to get the file, because it simply is not practical to ask for the
register every day. So our version of the register may not be complete. But at
least we won't be deleting public information after it is published.
So click here to inspect our
version of the Post-service Employment of Civil Servants (PECS) register if you
want. It is pretty boring stuff to most readers, but there is a principle at
stake. You'll also find it under "Other Stuff" in our navigation bar above.
ACPECS Annual reports, 1990-2003
And there's one more thing. The CSB is advised by the
Advisory Committee on Post-service Employment of Civil
Servants, or ACPECS. They produce annual reports. Only the
latest one was online when we looked. After our inquiry, CSB uploaded 4 more.
But this thing has been going since October 1987, and given the current interest
in its processes, students of governance, not to mention Legislators, might like
to know more about the history of its work. We asked CSB to upload the rest, and
"the website...is not designed as the Bureau's archive".
Well it should be, not least because it is the cheapest way to make archives
available to the public, far cheaper than employing civil servants to deal with
individual requests by e-mail, as they did with us. They even took the trouble
to delete the 15th (2003) report when they uploaded the 20th (2008) report. They
simply don't "get" the web. If Google can digitise all the world's books, then
surely the HK Government can put its archives online. So, until the bureaucrats
figure out how to use the web properly, we have obtained the missing reports
from them and are now publishing them on the
same page as the register.
How you can help improve Government transparency
If you have access to any other government-published documents (in any area
of its work) which should be online but are not, then let
us know, and we will try to publish them on Webb-site.com until the
Government puts them on its own site.
© Webb-site.com, 2009