Post-service Employment of Civil Servants
8 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 has a 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 Legislators online.
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 they responded:
"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
Organisations in this story
- HKSAR Advisory Committee on Post-service Employment of Civil Servants
- NEW WORLD CHINA LAND LIMITED
- NEW WORLD DEVELOPMENT COMPANY LIMITED