Mrs Carrie Lam, Deputy Secretary for the Treasury, has been managing the EPP at the central level since its inception. She is leaving her post in Finance Bureau by end July. In the following interview, Mrs Lam shared with us her experience in managing the programme. And by the way, Mrs Lam, in her capacity as DS for Treasury, is also editor-in-chief of the EPP Newsletter.

Reporter : the achievement of 1.2% savings in recurrent expenditure in 2000-01 over and above the target of 1% suggests that EPP has been successfully implemented, at least for the initial stage. Can you tell us what are the factors contributing to this success?
Mrs Lam : EPP is a productivity drive across the Government and the subvented sector. A scheme of this sort requires a clear mandate from the above which we have. EPP was announced by the Chief Executive in his 1998 Policy Address. It is led by the Chief Secretary for the Administration and has the full support of senior officials. Secondly, we have allowed for a sufficiently long period for departments and agencies to prepare for it. Between October 1998 when the target was announced and the formal commencement of the three-year "savings" period from 1 April 2000, we are talking about an intervening 18 months for all to gear up to this challenge. Thirdly, EPP has been communicated rather widely and effectively throughout the public sector. In the first couple of months, we and CSB colleagues had held numerous briefings and group meetings. EPP ambassadors comprising FB and CSB colleagues went to visit each department not only to tell them what was EPP, but more importantly to listen to feedback. Fourthly, we have adopted an interactive, problem-solving approach to help departments undertake EPP. As a result, we have put in place an environment more conducive to improving productivity.
Reporter : can you tell us more about the environment to facilitate EPP?
Mrs Lam : many departments complained about lack of flexibility in resource management as a major constraint. We acknowledged that and introduced a one-line vote on a pilot basis in five departments in 1999-2000. By the way, we will roll out one-line vote to more departments in 2001-02. Others felt that spending less than the approved provision was not appreciated by FB. Accordingly, we removed once-and-for-all the underspending factor for Departmental Expenses provision in 1998 and in the following year, created the Save & Invest Account. Some told us surplus staff was a major constraint. We therefore put in place a central clearing house to help redeploy surplus staff. This also prompted the Voluntary Retirement Scheme. We also relaxed the direct procurement rules and raised the financial ceilings for departments to exercise their authority. Most importantly, we have not given up the need for continued effective communication. This is sustained partly through the publication of the EPP Newsletter.
Reporter : what is your most painful experience in managing EPP?
Mrs Lam : finding enough interesting stories to fill up the EPP Newsletter (joking!) It is not really pain but some disappointment when people tried to relate things they don't like to EPP. That is, EPP becoming the scapegoat.
Reporter : are you confident that the target of 5% savings by 2002-03 will be achieved?
Mrs Lam : Yes. I think most departments have actually drawn up plans to fully deliver the 5% savings within the timeframe. The question now is one of implementation. With the recent success in reducing the size of the civil service and the initial deletion of 6,700 vacancies in 2000-01 and the Voluntary Retirement Scheme to provide satisfactory arrangements for surplus staff, I am very confident that we will meet the target on time.
Reporter : what is your greatest satisfaction in managing this programme?
Mrs Lam : talking and interacting with colleagues in departments and in the subvented sector. Without EPP, my job in resource management in FB would be far less interesting. We would normally be behind the scene, supporting other bureaux in their policy formulation. As a result of EPP, I have many opportunities to attend briefings and seminars for departments and meet with the media.
Reporter : what do you like most about the EPP Newsletter?
Mrs Lam : the experience sharing columns. In every issue of the Newsletter, we tried to invite managers from Government or the subvented sector to write stories for us to share their experience in managing EPP. I am even more delighted to receive letters from departmental colleagues which we will publish in the Newsletter. I think experience sharing is extremely important. People can learn from each other.

Finance Bureau Editorial Board

21 July 2000


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