The Liberal party has called on the government to fire under performing Under Secretaries and Political Assistants. Their calls are based on controversies that have previously emerged questioning their role and performance. However based on performance review results which showed that the appointees met their objectives, the government would like to stick to its earlier decision of retaining them.
The government in 2008, appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants as an effort to expand the Principal Official Accountability System (POAS) whereby they were to assist the politically appointed principal officials. This educed controversy on their role and performance coupled with calls to cut their remuneration. As a result the government reviewed the appointees’ performance whereby the results showed that they met their objectives. However their have been fresh calls from the liberal party to the government to fire the underperforming appointees though their calls have been based on public opinion polls that that gave a low rating to the appointees. Nevertheless a Synergy Net Report of October 2009 stated that the deputy Secretaries had played a key part in handling legislative work. In addition when the Bureau Secretary are on duty visits or on leave the Under Secretaries have been helpful whereby they deputized for them (Synergy Net report, para. 14-16).
It is clear that most of the claims of underperformance are based on wrong standards of performance. For instance there was a direct comparison of the work of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants however each of these positions have different sectors to liaise with, different portfolios and different subject matters. The Under Secretaries can be effectively used with time in other responsibilities as seen when they deputized for the absent Bureau Secretaries. It also comes out that the public is less informed of the roles of these appointees, which is attributed to the lack of direct initiatives to inform the public of the same. There is widespread suspicion from the public that the new offices were created to reward political loyalist rather than serve the public (HKU POP Press release. Para.9-11)
There should be a clear definition of roles and performance standards of the Under Secretaries and Political Assistants so as to counter the incorrect evaluations. The government through public campaigns should come up with initiatives to educate the public on the same roles and provide an effective means of evaluating the appointees. This will enable the public to gauge their expectation based on the roles and it will also help the appointees meet public expectations. For instance clear roles such as presenting government positions in the LegCo and to the members of the public and other hand having performance standards such as how effective were the appointees in explaining government policies, how often did they attend the panel meetings as well as how effective were they in participating in the meeting discussions (Synergy Net report, para. 15).
Such clear definition of roles and performance increases accountability to the public. Though the positions were still new the government can find more ways of effectively using the appointees that will give satisfaction to the public. The government should ensure that each appointee is picked based on his qualification to the position he is to take over, which will help in attracting trust from the public on the positions and their occupants.