Government expenditure is approved and controlled by heads and subheads. Whilst virement between subheads is possible, this conventional way of controlling expenditure within a bureau or department inevitably limits flexibility and impedes innovation in resource management. With the agreement of LegCo's Finance Committee, five government departments namely, the Hong Kong Police Force, Treasury, Intellectual Property Department, Civil Service Training and Development Institute and the Office of the Ombudsman have been selected to operate on a one-line vote from 1999-2000 on a pilot basis. Under a one-line vote, except otherwise excluded, all the recurrent expenditure of the department is placed under one single cash-limited subhead. Staff and non-staff expenses are no longer separately controlled. As part of the pilot, we provide quarterly reports to LegCo's Finance Committee on the flexibility exercised by these one-line vote departments. We intend to fully evaluate the scheme in 2000-01 and extend the one-line vote to more bureaux and departments from 2001-02. The concept of a one-line vote is indeed not new. The Legislative Council Commission has operated on a one-line vote since its establishment in 1994. In this issue, we have invited its Controlling Officer, Secretary General, Mr. Ricky FUNG, J.P. to write about LegCo Secretariat's efforts to achieve enhanced productivity.
The Legislative Council Commission
The Legislative Council Commission is responsible for overseeing the administrative support provided to the Legislative Council and its Members. Since its establishment in 1994, it has been operating through the Legislative Council Secretariat under a one-line vote. Although with complete administrative independence, the remuneration package for its staff has to be broadly in line with that in the civil service. In obtaining its financial provision, the Commission has to go through the same procedure like any other government department. The Enhanced Productivity Programme (EPP) is therefore also applicable to the Commission.
There are two subheads for recurrent expenditure under the Commission's head of expenditure: one for Legislative Council Members' remuneration and operating expenses reimbursements, and another for the Secretariat's operating expenses for staff remuneration and departmental expenses. Funds cannot be vired between these two subheads.
Since over 85% of the Secretariat's operating expenses is expended on staff remuneration, the 5% EPP saving that has to be achieved by 2002-03 inevitably has an impact on staff. To achieve the targeted saving without compromising the quality or reducing the level of service, the Secretariat has taken various measures.
Council Business Divisions 1 and 2
Formerly, panels and committees were served by Committee Clerks (and Assistant Clerks) in Council Business Divisions 1 and 2, while research service was provided by Research Officers in Research and Library Services Division. As the Clerks have gained more experience in the areas they serve, they are now performing first level researches, such as fact-finding and gathering of information, so that Research Officers can concentrate more on in-depth researches and data analyses.
The Secretariat works with very little lead time. To ensure papers for Members are issued in both Chinese and English simultaneously, Clerks have to prepare notices and circulars in both languages, unless they are complex or lengthy. This obviates the need for a cross-division translation process.
The Clerks are able to take up these additional research and translation duties with provision of training on the use of Chinese and delegation of the logistical arrangements for meetings as far as possible to the clerical and secretarial staff. When the new process is properly tuned up, two posts of Assistant Clerks (pitched at Senior Executive Officer level), out of 16, will be deleted.
Translation and Interpretation Division
The Translation and Interpretation Division (TI Division) has two sections. One serves panels and committees, and the other prepares Hansard reports, which are verbatim records of the Legislative Council meetings proceedings. Formerly, each section had a pool of Chinese Word Processing Operators (CWOs). As every Chinese Language Officer is equipped with a PC and trained on the input of Chinese characters, the volume of typing translated drafts in Chinese by CWOs has decreased. To take up the slack, the pools are merged with a reduction in manpower. The pool now works more on amendments after vetting, formatting of documents, and preparation of tables and charts.
The translation process has also changed. Depending on the complexity of a document, the translation process now starts from either the Chinese Language Officer (CLO) or Senior Chinese Language Officer (SCLO) level. Instead of going through a two-step process of translation by CLOs and vetting by SCLOs, factors such as the expertise of the translator and the complexity and importance of a document determine the level of vetting warranted. This has shortened the processing time and reduced the resources required.
To reduce the volume of translation work at source, officers of the Secretariat are encouraged to prepare papers/ correspondence in Chinese or in both languages without resorting to the assistance of TI Division.
In the end, out of 26 CLO posts, six will be replaced by two SCLO posts.
Apart from training, improvements to the infrastructure has also contributed to the successful implementation of the above. For example, a networked computer is provided to everyone on a need basis. Searching of standard terms and information is done over the network, even in the Internet world. This includes an on-line Electronic Glossary provided by the Official Languages Agency, which is accessible to all, and its database is updated with terms used by the Legislative Council.
Reduction in Acting and Overtime Allowances
A new arrangement in granting acting allowance to staff has been introduced. Previously, in line with the civil service practice, the Secretariat granted acting allowance to staff undertaking additional responsibilities during temporary absence of staff of two weeks or more. Presently, acting allowance is payable only in the case of a long-term acting appointment which lasts for more than three consecutive months. In granting the allowance, the Secretary General has also to be satisfied that there is a substantive vacancy or there is additional work which would otherwise have to be undertaken by temporary staff; and there is no consequential acting appointment which necessitates the payment of acting allowance.
Instead of granting an acting allowance to one or two colleagues who shoulder the additional responsibility, members of the same team have to share out the workload. The reduced additional burden on any one person eases the demand for pecuniary compensation, especially when the period involved is relatively short.
The Legislative Council and its Members work well beyond nine to five. By implementing staggered working hours, the idle time and overtime of the supporting staff is reduced. The staff fully understand the flexibility required as they come more in touch with the pulse of the community.
Members and staff are all along environmentally conscious. The advent of EPP leads to greater austerity. Opportunities are taken to review the consumption of paper, electricity and the like. Processes are revamped and alternatives explored. Double-side printing and switching off of unwanted lights have become a social norm. Electronic mails and circulars replace hard copies, whenever possible. Items rendered redundant or unnecessary by the passage of time or revised procedures are no longer produced.
Flexibility Under One-line Vote
The deletion of posts reduces the buffer available to tide over peak periods. Part of the savings is reserved for hiring temporary staff or outside services when a certain criterion is met, such as when the number of meetings in a period exceeds a certain limit. The savings in personal emoluments (PE) can also be used on departmental expenses (DE), and vice versa. As the Secretariat's service is demand-led, the flexible virement of funds between PE and DE is crucial in organizing the necessary resources to tackle events as they happen.
Moreover, as the Commission is allowed to retain any surplus in its reserves, there is no reason for a spending spree before the end of a financial year. Timing of procurement just follows the natural course of development, as and when necessary.< src="../image/leco.gif" width="248" height="191" align="right">
Attainment of EPP Targets
The following summarizes the LegCo Secretariat's experience in achieving the EPP targets:
- training up a multi-skilled workforce
- treamlining work processes
- bigger jobs, fewer processes and shorter routes
- information technology (IT)
The progress is encouraging. No staff will be made redundant. Reduction in posts is achieved by natural wastage. Staff members enjoy job enrichment, through which they have more control and less frustration. The turnaround time is reduced. More is focused on the customer, both internal and external. Their satisfaction is our success!