A critical study of the principal officials accountability system of the HKSAR : constitutional and political inadequacies

by Sham, Ka-fai

Abstract (Summary)
(Uncorrected OCR) A critical study of the POAS Introduction INTRODUCTION On 1 July 2002, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) began to implement a new political system called the Principal Officials Accountability System (POAS) which was unknown to the governance of Hong Kong both before its resumption by China and in the first five years of Chinese rule after 1997. At the time when the idea of such a new system was first revealed in 2000,l the HKSAR Government never made it a secret that the POAS was never meant to be anything near either the Westminster-style ministerial system or the United States system where thousands of government officials can be replaced when there is a change of government. Former Chief Secretary for Administration Anson CHAN Fang On-sang (Anson CHAN), responding to the debate on the Chief Executive (CE) TUNG Chee-hwa's year 2000 Policy Address, said consistency and continuity in governance must not be compromised by any change introduced in the appointment of principal officials: "In practice, that would mean that we will not follow the American system of replacing several thousand officials every few years. We will also not adopt a Westminster-style ministerial system, whereby members of the legislature become principal officials."2 Such description of the POAS would seem to suggest that Hong Kong will have an accountability system that embraces characteristics of its own and could be different from the modern governmental accountability systems adopted by developed countries. 1 Address by the Chief Executive, "Serving the Community, Sharing Common Goals", 11.10.2000, under the heading of 'Executive Accountability' Para. 109-113. 2 Official Record of Proceedings of the Meetings of the Legislative Council, p.685, 1.11.2000. Page 1 of 172 A critical study of the POAS Introduction Nevertheless, although the HKSAR claimed that it would have its own road map to go by, the objectives of the POAS indeed had no difference to modern governance ideologies. When I commenced writing this dissertation, the POAS has just been put into practice for about one year and Stephen LAM, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (SCA) was about to submit another progress report on POAS to the Legislative Council (LegCo) before the LegCo session ended in July 2003. This dissertation seeks to analyze Hong Kong's unique constitutional and political background and reality, what the constraints and inadequacies of the POAS are, with a view to demonstrating whether the POAS would prove to be a successful attempt, and if not, the reasons for such failure and what improvements could be made to help achieve the announced objectives. Chapter I will give an overview of the POAS, covering background, the framework and objectives of the scheme. Before discussing the POAS, as background information, this chapter will first review the existing political system against which the POAS was introduced. I will discuss in Chapter II the theoretical framework of the concept of accountability in modern democratic governance with particular reference to ministerial responsibility, and the political context in which accountability is featured in modern governance. There will also be discussion on why accountability is called for; how accountability is measured; the way it operates ?for what, and to whom. As political accountability in the governments of the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) represent unique and Page 2 of 172 A critical study of the POAS Introduction different styles of public accountability, the experience in these two countries gives an insight into the study of ministerial accountability in modern governance. Chapter III examines how the systems work in these two places drawing a comparison between them. Chapter IV will analyze the constitutional limitations of the POAS. Such constraints, it will be argued, may have contributed to the failure of the system. The analysis will very much focus on the framework of the Basic Law (BL). The HKSAR Government, the CE and his team, the relationship between the Executive Council (ExCo) and LegCo and the Principal Officials (POs) under the POAS will be examined in turn. Lastly, the legal status of the POs will also be addressed. The political inadequacies of the POAS will be discussed in Chapter V. Political or constitutional conventions have been accepted by most as a key component in democratic governance. What part, if any, do conventions play in the implementation of the POAS? Are conventions essential in that process? If yes, does Hong Kong have the conventions that form the ground for the implementation of the POAS? What are the conventions in terms of political accountability systems in other places? This chapter will also assess the way the principal officials are selected by the CE and discuss whether the process has produced limitation to the operations of the POAS. Further, interaction between the key governmental institutions, especially the interface between the civil service and the principal officials will also be closely scrutinized. In Chapter VI, I will examine the operation of the POAS, using a few current issues such as the purchase of a new car by the Financial Secretary (FS) Antony LEUNG Kam-chung (Antony LEUNG) before delivery of the budgetary speech in March 2003, the fight against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Government's Page 3 of 172 A critical study of the POAS Introduction proposal to make law on national security under Article 23 of the BL of the HKSAR to illustrate how the POAS has featured in implementation. I will argue that it is through these incidents that the inadequacies of the POAS are exposed and which have adversely affected the operation of the system, hence failure of the accountability system itself. When TUNG introduced the line-up of his POs in June 2002, he told Hong Kong people that he had put together the best team to serve them. After a teething stage of a year or so, has the HKSAR Government been able to achieve what it has sought to achieve? The concluding chapter will review the implementation of the POAS, making reference to the official reports released by the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB) and the motion debate in the LegCo on the system's failure. It has been claimed that the POAS is a success and has achieved something that might not have been possible in the old days. Is that so? I will draw a conclusion that the POAS is a misnomer, that if it is meant to bring about more accountable governance in the real sense, something else is needed to make the system work as intended. Page 4 of 172
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Hong Kong

School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:ministerial responsibility china hong kong politics and government 1997


Date of Publication:01/01/2005

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