The Study of Higher Non-Expatriate Civil Servants in Hong Kong


Wong, Aline K.

TitleThe Study of Higher Non-Expatriate Civil Servants in Hong Kong
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateJune, 1972

Officials and employees

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:In conclusion, we can raise a few points in connection with our survey findings:

(1) Under the British tradition, a career civil servant’s role in the government has been one of an executive and administrator. The permanence of his office is one device to ensure continuity of the Public Service and the smooth-running of the government irrespective of changeovers among the elected political leaders. Politics and policies are left to the ministers and politicians. However, in a colony, such traditional role of the civil servant is called into question. In the absence of parliamentary democracy, a civil servant is often required by the nature of his work to play the role of policy-maker and in a sense, “appeal to an “electorate” for support.” In this dual role, this civil servant has to familiarize himself with the opinions of the public, which are so inadequately represented by the local political parties whose roles are limited by the Urban Council electoral system. The recent more open attitude and partial acceptance of public opinion by the Hong Kong Government since the 1966 and 1967 riots indicate a beginning to recognize this particular, dualistic role of the civil servant in a colonial society. On the other hand, however, the fact that the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers, who are by definition members of the local community, are still not involved in the top-policy making process will inevitably undermine this auspicious beginning.

(2) The high professionalism of the senior civil servants, their emphasis on “doing a good job” of an assignment inevitably leads to a cautious, conservative approach to their work. Especially where they are not involved in policy-making, most SNOs tend to fall back on precedents in their job execution. However, in a rapidly developing economy and a fast-changing society, the civil servants need to get away from, stereotype thinking and be more innovative. The modern role of a civil servant should be of the managerial type, his perspective should be forward-looking, not dependent on the past. The absence of long-term planning which his hitherto characterized so many of the Government’s social and economic policies actually reflects the under-emphasis on the modern dynamic role of the civil servant, be he local or expatriate.

(3) Expatriates by definition do not have roots in the local society and they are naturally detached from the Chinese population. On the other hand, society of Hong Kong is ultimately to suffer if so many of its Senior Non-expatriate civil servants also lack a sense of attachment to their own community. It might be argued that for the day-to-day routine running of the government members of the Public Services should maintain a cool, professional attitude towards their various tasks. However, for the drafting and execution of long-term policies, a firmer commitment to the local society is obviously required.

(4) The progress of the localization policy as revealed by official statistics, which we have put together in Charts I and II, is deceptive. The Charts indicate two significant facts about the carrying out of the policy. Firstly, the seemingly impressive progress made among the technical and professional officers does not show the hierarchical distribution of the still remaining minority of expatriate staff in the various departments. Thus, our survey of the senior professional workers within the Service shows that they are still rarely involved in policy-making. Secondly, localization has made very slow progress in certain other areas. Indeed, it was no more than a gesture until very recently. Such is the case with the administrative and executive grades. The lack of progress of localization among the Police Inspectors is even more striking. However, one has to reconcile with the fact that there is no complete localization for a colony.

(5) As we have indicated in Section X, the amount of anti-expatriate feeling may have been far greater than our limited study can reveal. The fact that a high proportion of SNOs (76%) feel that they can easily do the job of their immediate superiors may cloak an anti-expatriate attitude. If this were true, it would also imply a widespread under-utilization of the higher-level manpower which is available, is there already locally. This is again borne out by our SNOs’ evaluation of their own capabilities, 47% of them consider that their duties are a little below or well below their capabilities.

(6) Our study has disclosed a high degree of homogeneity among the SNOs in terms of their values and aspirations. They represent a brand of social conformity among the up-and –coming middle and upper-middle classes in the local society, the salaried middle class in particular. However, unlike the free professionals and still more unlike the business executives, these SNOs are not simultaneously status-seekers in the community. For the former two groups, status aspirations in some way compensates for the lack of political expression in the Colony, but for the public servants, no such compensation exists. Whether or not their sense of achievement in life and their pursuit of professionalism in their work do not lead to a bureaucratic complacency is a question worth further research on.

(7) We have repeatedly pointed out that the SNOs seem to be more concerned with the nature and quality of their work, rather than with the pay. However, it must be emphasized that job satisfaction among the SNOs is preconditioned on adequate pay, and that we can expect a different order of values attached to work among the less senior or lower grade civil servants.

In spite of the attractions of job security and other job benefits, 51% of the SNOs do not plan to retire in Government services, or are uncertain about it. This indicated that the Hong Kong Civil Service is likely to be threatened with a massive drop out from among the ranks of its dedicated, experienced professionals. Should this happen within a short span of time, and if the Government fails to find replacements immediately, its effective functioning will be impaired. The case in point was the crisis situation which developed in the recent past among the medical officers, with large numbers of them resigning for private practice or migrating to other countries owing to the
196~ riots. While no government in the world has successfully dealt with the problem of loss of professional manpower to the private sector, the Government in Hong Kong faces a more formidable task: how to cultivate a greater sense of commitment among its well-qualified personnel who may not only be lost to the Public Service, but may also be lost to the local society?
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Images Preview
The Study of Higher Non-Expatriate Civil Servants in Hong Kong (PDF)5.73 MB