【明報專訊】THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL has accepted the recommendation of an independent commission and is to revise upwards the remuneration of Directors of Bureaux under the accountability system by 12.4 per cent next July. A new mechanism has also been adopted, under which the remuneration of politically appointed officials will be adjusted in line with inflation starting from next term of government.
A review of the remuneration of politically appointed officials has become part of the routine before a new government is sworn in. Under the new proposal, not only will the remuneration of Directors of Bureaux be adjusted upwards by 12.4 per cent, but that of Secretaries of Departments and Under Secretaries will also be adjusted, and they will have a salary rise of around $20,000 to $40,000. The salary gap between Secretaries of Departments and Directors of Bureaux is held at 3.5 per cent, while the salaries of Under Secretaries are about 65 to 75 per cent of those of Directors of Bureaux. As can be calculated, the Chief Secretary for Administration's monthly salary of around $330,000 at present will soar over $370,000 after the rise. Those of Under Secretaries, around $190,000 to $220,000 at the moment, will rise to around $210,000 to $250,000. Lawmakers from non-establishment and pro-establishment camps alike have voiced reservations about the plan.
Raymond Tam, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, has stressed that as the remuneration of politically appointed officials remains at 2002 levels, the adjustment is "justified". This explanation might be plausible technically. But we are afraid that this is not what citizens generally think. In 2009, in response to the financial crisis, politically appointed officials took a 5.38% salary cut of their own accord, as senior civil servants faced a similar rate of salary reduction. In 2012, an independent commission recommended an 8.1% salary rise for Secretaries of Departments and Directors of Bureaux. But the Legislative Council was against it. At last Leung Chun-ying announced that their salaries would be frozen and scrapped the salary rise plan. It was not until last year that the salaries of politically appointed officials were "defrosted" and "returned to 2002 levels". But the public saw it as a salary rise of 5.38 per cent. Now the government has proposed raising the salaries of Directors of Bureaux by more than 10 per cent. This has left the public with the impression of "two substantial salary rises in two years". Their opposition is understandable.
The public's impression aside, the SAR's politically appointed officials enjoy a relatively high level of remuneration (though not as high as that in Singapore) when compared to the rest of the world. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew receive only US$17,141 (HK$133,700) every month, which is only 40 per cent or so of the salary of a SAR Director of Bureau. Hong Kong society used to believe that high salary ensures clean government. However, former Chief Secretary for Administration Rafael Hui's involvement in corruption cases has severely shaken such a belief. It should be reconsidered at what level the remuneration of politically appointed officials should be set.
The incumbent government has had great difficulty attracting people of high ability. The reason, however, is not that the remuneration is not high enough. It is because we are in a highly divided and partisan society in which there is no lack of political arguments. Everything is politicalised and rational discussion is ignored. Complicating matters is the fact that the Chief Executive is elected in a "small-circle" election and lacks a mandate to act. Very often politically appointed officials become the lightning rod for criticism, making capable people unwilling to join the government, regarded as the "hot kitchen". This affects the ability of the SAR's governance team to administer Hong Kong. Poor administration in turn leads to more criticism of the government. The vicious cycle is the dilemma faced by the SAR government.