In the last issue of the EPP Newsletter, we encouraged readers to write to us on their views on the implementation of EPP. So far, we have received three articles. We are grateful for these views, and look forward to receiving more from you. In considering the way forward for EPP, we will take into account these useful suggestions.

Article from Mr Kong Sai-cheong, Hong Kong Police Force (Translated version)

Dear Sir,

While rejoicing at their achievement of the overall target of 5% cumulative productivity gains, some departments have expressed that they may encounter difficulties of varying degrees in pushing further ahead with the Enhanced Productivity Programme (EPP). Since the launch of the Programme in 2000, the EPP measures of various departments, such as granting compensation leaves in lieu of overtime allowance and contracting out non-core projects, have been focused on the real money savings in expenditure. The short-term effects of such measures can easily be seen, but further cuts in expenditure will not be possible in the long run. It is therefore necessary for us to reposition ourselves in the new next phase of EPP. Besides reinforcing the existing mode of achieving productivity gains, we have to review the following areas to ensure that we can enhance the administrative effectiveness of departments and reorganize the structures while maintaining public services. Special efforts should be made to streamline the complicated process of decision making to enhance efficiency and save manpower.

Administrative effectiveness : As a result of misinterpretation of "collective responsibility", management staff are in the habit of conducting consultations on matters big and small. Time and manpower are thus wasted in transmission of documents and opinion collection within a department. Therefore, while acknowledging the importance of internal consultation, we should ensure that unnecessary consultation is minimized.

Structure re-organisation : Departments should review their organizational structures to see if there is any overlapping of duties. In the first phase of EPP, heads of departments have set their own targets for achieving savings in expenditure. In the next phase, they should study jointly in a wide perspective to see whether the structures and functions of their departments overlap with one another.

Decision-making process : Owing to the overlapping management structures, differences in opinions can easily arise in the decision-making process. This will often result in matters being delayed and a waste of manpower and time. Heads of departments should, therefore, review the decision-making process for matters of different levels of priority and develop the necessary mechanism to enhance efficiency and save time.

Editor's response

Thanks for Mr Kong's views. With continually increasing demands from the public, all Government bureaux and departments should enhance their "serving the community" spirit and culture. We need to make rapid responses to issues as they arise. We also need to work efficiently without delay. We aim to accelerate the pace of handling community-related matters by bureaux and departments. As an example, in 2002-03, the Civil Service Bureau will embark on a major review of civil service rules and regulations with a view to identifying further scope for simplification and streamlining of procedures. The aim is to enhance efficiency and to achieve economy of resources through greater devolution of responsibilities to departments.



Article from Mr R A Highfield, Hong Kong Police Force

Dear Sir,

I believe it would assist civil servants to understand EPP better if they understood the principal of good government. To get such an understanding amongst so many thousands requires any explanation to be simple and convincing, and not least, true!

I have the temerity to offer the following, which has always been well received by those to whom it has been addressed, normally rather lower grades in my department.

If you look at the countries of the world which are successful in terms of a good quality of life, they have certain factors in common. The two most important of these are:-

(a) Don't spend too much of your citizen's money, and

(b) Don't interfere too much in your citizen's everyday lives.

In other words, small government. Those which are rich in natural resources can err on the side of bigger spending, but the general rule holds true. Such a government encourages enterprise by not putting unnecessary financial constraints on business or private citizens. However, we can't have no government, that would lead to anarchy. Government is responsible for providing the framework necessary to enable its citizens to live their lives and become prosperous. Such obvious things as transport, communications, drainage, legal framework, and in my case, law and order.

What level of these services is required? Well, sufficient of each so that the lack thereof does not restrict citizens in their business. But not too much! That would break rule (a) above. The level has to be that which the customer (the citizen) expects, or a little better. Take police for example. If we provide too good a level of law and order, we will almost certainly have spent too much money to achieve it. Thus taxes would be higher and business would be less competitive thus affecting everybody's standard of living. On the other hand, if the law and order situation is unacceptable, business will be hindered, foreigners will not set up here, and the result will be the same. Our roads must work effectively, but if we built enough roads so that there was never another traffic jam, we would have spent too much money, thus breaking rule (a) again.

Expectations are continually rising. We want a better quality of life for ourselves and future generations.

The ideal therefore is for every service the government provides to be a bit better than expected, at a cost a bit less than expected.

Thus when I set out to achieve a small part of providing law and order in Hong Kong, I should not just consider the obvious objective, I should also consider how to achieve it at the minimum cost to the taxpayer.

Everything we civil servants do has a dollar value, which we are in the habit of ignoring because we are not in business, but we should change this culture, which is what EPP is trying to do. If all civil servants considered the cost of their actions, how to do more for the same or the less, and carried out their functions with this in mind, we could certainly improve our services and reduce the cost to the taxpayer. This will make business more competitive and give the worker more spending money, and hey, after all, we are taxpayers and workers too!

Editor's response

Thanks for Mr Highfield's views. The 2001 Policy Address states that the Government believes in the principle of small government. In the long run, we will simplify our organizational structure and curb government spending. To achieve this objective, we have been actively pursuing measures to contain the size of the civil service and to increase the efficiency of government operations.

The measures which we have initiated in the past two years include -

(a) implementing a Voluntary Retirement Scheme for the civil service, which is expected to lead to annual savings of almost $1 billion over time;

(b) containing the size of the Civil Service by imposing a general recruitment freeze between April 1999 and March 2001;

(c) requesting bureaux and departments to introduce enhanced productivity measures under the Enhanced Productivity Programme for increasing their efficiency and reducing public expenditure; and

(d) providing greater flexibility to Bureaux Secretaries/Heads of Department on staffing matters so that they are better placed to respond to changing service needs in response to public demand.

Through these measures, we have among other things reduced the civil service establishment from some 198 000 in March 2000 to 185 600 as at 1 October 2001. We are working towards reducing the establishment further to 181 000 by March 2003.



Article from "A typist with a conscience" (Translated version)

Dear Sir,

I have been working as a typist for over twenty years. I can say that I have witnessed the many changes undergoing in the typist grade and found that the workloads of typists are always on the decrease. With the widespread use of computers across all government departments, almost every officer (except WM I & II and OA) now has his own computer regardless of his grade or rank, resulting in an ever decreasing workload for typing pool of some departments. Although not a few departments have deleted typing pool altogether under the Enhanced Productivity Programme, I still find that the few remaining have little value of existence. More often than not, typists staying in the pool mostly spend their time leisurely reading newspaper, chatting with colleagues or talking on the phone. I am sure the value of our existence only lies in our availability to act as Personal Secretary II. We just work indolently day after day without feeling the least pressure from work, and of course the so-called senior typists are no exception. Therefore, under the recent bridging-over arrangement in which typists are transferred to clerical assistants, it is no wonder that many typists cannot stand the heavy workloads of the latter and request to be transferred back to the typist grade using numerous excuses. I think the Government is too lenient to them and has wasted too much time and effort to deal with their requests. Needless to say, the aged typists are all the more reluctant to leave the grade. I think, however, that the Government is more to blame than the typists for this because of its indecisiveness and reluctance to delete the grade. I now put forward the following proposals for the consideration of the Bureau :

(1) The Government should speed up the process of transferring out all typists and senior typists alike and delete the grade accordingly, as the duties of typists and those of clerical assistants overlap, resulting in a waste of public money.

(2) Some typists may oppose to the transfer arrangement as they always find it difficult to adapt to new posts because of their age. The Government should therefore consider whether they can be allowed to retire early. I find that the motto "the survival of the fittest" always holds true. I believe that most typists are willing to be transferred to other posts in order to stay employed, if they treasure their jobs and do not evade heavy workloads. The remaining few who are unwilling to work should therefore be directed to retire early, so as to save the Government from the enormous salary payments and benefits spent on them.

(3) I hope that when Civil Service Reform is to be conducted in future, the Government can consider relaxing the retirement age limit of civil servants and not compulsorily require them to retire between ages 50-55 or 55-60. Instead, a flexible approach should be adopted. As far as I know, the existing provision under the Old Pension Scheme only allows a civil servant to retire prematurely at the age of 45 years on the grounds of immigration. I think this is out of keeping with the times and should be changed appropriately to meet present social circumstances. It is because a person does not know the extent to which he can endure pressure and for how long. He may be emotionally disturbed and even takes things too hard. If we can apply for retirement any time we feel that our ability can no longer meet work requirements, we need not stay idly in our posts until retirement age. Government is only required to pay us the pension we deserve. There is no need to give us any additional compensation because we ourselves make the choice voluntarily. In so doing, some posts will be vacated for filling in by the younger generation so more job opportunities can be created. This arrangement is beneficial to both parties.

I hope you will study carefully the above proposals and consider them seriously. Thank you.


Editor's response

Thanks for the views from "A typist with a conscience". Over the past few years, vigorous efforts have been made by the Management to develop the clerical and secretarial grades to provide a multi-skilled office support service. Since 1998, over 2 000 Typists have been transferred to the Clerical Assistant grade and at the same time, the number of typing pools has been reduced significantly. The remaining 700 Typists are working in pools retained by individual departments on operational grounds to provide dedicated typing services.

The Typist Grade is included in the Voluntary Retirement Scheme launched by the Government last year. Some 130 members of the Typist grade have opted to retire under the scheme. A series of training workshops have been held for Typists remaining in service to promote a proactive, flexible and open work attitude among the staff to help them to change their mindset and culture. A wide variety of courses ranging from computer applications to English Language training have also been provided to improve the efficiency and service quality of the Grade.

If colleagues have identified scope for improving the operation of typing pools, they are welcome to bring this to the attention of the departmental or Grade management.

The great majority of staff are employed on permanent and pensionable terms and have an expectation for a long-term career in the Civil Service until retirement. The existing retirement ages for pensionable officers under the Old Pension Scheme and the New Pension Scheme are stipulated in the pensions legislation and form part of the design features of the current pension schemes. The setting of retirement ages aims to strike a balance between maintaining a stable Civil Service on one hand and rejuvenating its members from time to time. We have no intention at this moment to review the existing pension scheme or to change the retirement ages of pensionable civil servants.



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