Have the ISD chief, CE office secretary been made scapegoats?

August 19, 2019 13:25
The transfer of two civil servants has prompted suspicions among observers that the officials were being made to pay the price for the government’s extradition bill debacle. Photo: Bloomberg

More than two months into the extradition bill saga, the resistance movement shows no sign of letting up.

Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has admitted that "deficiencies” in the government's work has led to "controversies, disputes and anxieties in society”, the fact remains that, as of now, no politically accountable official has accepted responsibility and stepped down.

Nor did the chief executive overhaul the Executive Council, her chief advisory body.

Ironically, as it turned out, it was Cathy Chu Man-ling, the Director of Information Services, and Jessie Ting Yip Yin-mei, the Permanent Secretary of the Chief Executive's Office, who have become the casualties in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.

According to an announcement, Chu is leaving the Information Services Department (ISD) to take up a new position as Postmaster General.

Ting, meanwhile, is yet to be named for any new job by the authorities.

It is understood that there are quite a number of concerns internally among ISD staffers over the transfer of Chu, not necessarily because they feel sorry for her -- Chu had been in office for just 18 months -- but because they feel their department has been made a scapegoat for the administration’s failures.

Ever since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement, the ISD has been in the firing line from senior government officials and the pro-establishment camp for allegedly not doing enough to carry the Lam administration's message to the public.

However, the truth is that the fundamental reason why the proposed law change sparked a full-scale anti-government political firestorm was not because there had not been a good information and PR drive, but rather due to the fact that the principal officials in charge of the legislative push had been out of touch with the political and social reality.

A government figure has revealed that the ISD has actually been telling the chief executive and relevant senior governments about the news coverage and information concerning the anti-extradition bill movement “like it is” over the last few months.

As such, the government figure stressed, if the chief executive and her principal officials were really willing to understand the public sentiments, they had access to sufficient information for reference. And there was no question of public voices not reaching the government leadership through the ISD.

As to explaining the details of the proposed law changes to the public, the source pointed out that all the ISD is responsible for is to promote a policy initiative and release the related information to the public after it has been formulated solely on the ideas provided by the government bureau in charge of it.

In other words, the ISD has absolutely no say in the process of policymaking whatsoever, no matter whether the measures are good or bad.

Besides, the politically appointed officials of the various policy bureaus, such as their political assistants, should take up the responsibility for lobbying different organizations in society to support their policy initiatives. The ISD cannot be totally blamed for the extradition bill fiasco, the government figure added.

Nevertheless, another government source says Chu's transfer shouldn't be seen as shifting the blame to the ISD.

Instead, this source said, Chu’s appointment to another position is part of the government’s attempt to have a change in a line-up of some of its senior personnel in the aftermath of the extradition bill debacle.

By replacing Chu, who didn’t have much interaction with the chief executive, and Ting, who is bit of a maverick, with Rex Chang Wai-yuen, the incumbent Deputy Secretary for Education, and Shirley Lam Shuet-lai, the current Special Representative for Hong Kong Economic and Trade Affairs to the European Union, respectively, the government hopes the new appointments can streamline its operation workflow, the source said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 16

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.