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Unformatted text preview: Spring 2004 L2 Lecture 2
The Chief Executive and the Executive Branch (A) The Nature of the Executive-Dominant System (行政主導) “Executive-dominance”, as a “major principle” of the SAR political system, is
not precisely defined and is not explicitly written in the Basic Law. In the HK political system, most political power is concentrated in the hands of
the Chief Executive and the Executive branch. The executive branch includes
the bureau secretaries (局長), the civil service and the Executive Council (Exco)
(行政局/行政會議). Many policy decisions do not have to pass through the Legislative Council
(Legco) (e.g., cutting the CSSA (綜援), using mother language in schools, to
build 85,000 flats a year). Only policy decisions that require legislation or
appropriation (撥款) need to get the approval of the Legco. The government controls the power of initiation of bills, and has a big influence
on the timetable of the Legco. The Basic Law (Art.72) stipulates that
government motions and proposals have a priority in the Legco agenda. Constitutionally the Legco is relatively weak in power. It can control the
government and government finance. It can also influence government policy by
passing, vetoing or amending laws. However, it is relatively difficult for the
Legco to force the government to adopt new policies or change policies if the
government does not want to do so. The executive branch, mostly the Chief Executive, holds a wide range of
appointment powers (see below), which the Legco cannot control. (B) The Governor and the Chief Executive
The Governor was a petty dictator holding a wide range of powers: 1 Spring 2004 L2 (1) He appointed all the Exco and Legco members before 1985. He was Chairman of
both the Exco and Legco until 1991 and could dissolve the Legco any time.
(2) All appointments, promotions, transfers of public officials in the colony were
made in his name. The list included judges, government officials, members of
consultative committees, boards of public corporations (e.g., KCRC), statutory
bodies and policy commissions (e.g., Housing Authority 房委會). Most of these
appointments do not need the approval of the Legco or the courts.
(3) He can disregard the opinion of the majority of Exco. He only had to explain the
reason to the British Foreign Office (英國外交部).
(4) Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in HK.
(5) All bills passed by the Legco need the final approval and signature of the
Governor before they can become law. The SAR Chief Executive (CE): Similarities and Differences in Power
(a) Retains most of the appointment powers enjoyed by the colonial governor by
(b) S-he is the leader of the government and represents Hong Kong internationally;
(c) Can veto legislation passed by the Legco (with restrictions);
(d) The CE can ignore a majority opinion of the Exco, but has to record the reasons
Constraints to CE’s power (non-existent before 1997)
(a) the CE must resign if s-he is seriously ill or unable to discharge of the duties due to
(b) Can be impeached (彈劾) by the Legco in case of serious illegality (嚴重違法) or
2 Spring 2004 L2 abuses the office (瀆職), but only the Central Government can make the decision
to replace the CE;
(c) If the CE thinks that a bill passed by the Legco is incompatible with the overall
interests of the SAR, he can send it back to the Legco within three months for
reconsideration. If the Legco passes the bill again with a 2/3 majority, the CE must
either sign the bill or dissolve the Legco. If the newly-elected Legco still passes
the bill by a 2/3 majority, the CE must sign the bill or resign. (Art. 49)
(d) If the budget or other important bills fail to pass the Legco, the CE can dissolve the
Legco. If the re-elected Legco still refuses to pass the budget or the bill, the CE
must resign. (Art.50)
(e) The CE can only dissolve the Legco once during his/her term.
(f) The CE is no longer the Commander-in-Chief in Hong Kong.
(C) The Executive Council (行政局/行政會議)
Functioning Before 1997 Composition before 1997 (see table) Before 1894, the Exco consisted of colonial officials only. The first unofficial
member (非官守議員) was introduced in 1896. Unofficials (非官守議員) made
up the majority only after 1966. The unofficials usually came from large business
groups or professional groups. The colonial cabinet: Governor in Council (港督會同行政局) was the highest
decision-making body in the colonial era. The Governor was required to consult
the Exco in all cases except when it was urgent, trivial, or highly confidential.
Most major policy decisions and new legislations will be passed up to the Exco. Financial matters seldom go to the Exco. The annual budget, for example, is not
decided by the Exco. The power of financial control mostly stays with the Legco. The rule of confidentiality (保密原則) and collective responsibility (集體負責
制) are two rules of thumb. Members have to support Exco decisions in public
3 Spring 2004 L2 and cannot disclose the contents of discussion. In 1985-91, when elected members began to challenge the govt., the govt. relied
on some appointed unofficials to defend government policy in the Legco. These
members would serve simultaneously on Exco and Legco. They helped to
explain government policies passed by the Exco to the Legco and secure majority
support in the Legco, and were nicknamed the “firemen team” (救火隊).
Examples: Allen Lee(李鵬飛), Rita Fan (范徐麗泰), Selina Chow (周梁淑怡). Patten de-linked Exco and Legco, which means Exco members can no longer
serve on the Legco. The bureau secretaries then directly answered to the Legco.
After 1997 According to Article 54 of the Basic Law, the Executive Council of the HKSAR
“assists the Chief Executive in policy-making.” Exco members consist of members of the public (公眾人士), Legco members and
government officials. The CE holds the power of appointment and dismissal. According to the Basic Law, the CE has to consult the Exco before making
important decisions, except in disciplinary actions against officials, personnel
decisions or in emergency. The CE can disregard the majority opinion of the
Exco, but has to record the reasons. After the introduction of POAS(主要官員問責制), the Exco was expanded to
some 20 people. All the bureau secretaries become members of the Exco. Other
unofficial members include chairmen of pro-government parties such as Jasper
Tsang (曾鈺成) of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (民主
建港聯盟) (DAB) and James Tien (田北俊) of Liberal Party (自由黨) (LP). The
party leaders are brought in to guarantee government policy will get the support
of DAB and LP in the Legco. After James Tien resigned in July 2003, his
position was filled by Selina Chow(周梁淑怡), Vice Chairman of LP.
(D) Accountability System for Principal Officials (主要官員問責制)
Origins Under the old system, the bureau secretaries who are responsible for making
4 Spring 2004 L2 policies are all civil servants. Even if they make unpopular policies or make
policy mistakes, they cannot be dismissed if they do not violate any laws or civil
service regulations. This will bring problems of accountability. For the sake of peaceful transition, in 1997 the CE largely used most of the
former civil servants as bureau secretaries. Choosing among the civil servants
limits the CE’s choice, and makes it difficult for the government to introduce
outside talents. It also makes it difficult for the CE to pick his own team of
policy-makers. Both the Exco and the bureau secretaries have policy-making powers. However,
usually it is the bureau secretaries who face the Legco, the media and the public,
to explain and defend government decisions. Sometimes unpopular decisions
originate from Exco members, but the bureau secretaries have to defend them in
Legco and in public. This creates a confusion of roles and responsibilities and
sometimes leads to dissatisfaction of senior civil servants and conflicts in policy. There is no guarantee that the government will get majority support from the
Legco. The government officials sometimes have to spend a lot of time to lobby
the Legco members for bills and appropriations to pass. Changes under POAS Under the POAS, the bureau secretaries are no longer civil servants, but political
appointees who work on a contract basis. If their performance is considered
unsatisfactory, their contracts can be terminated by short notice. They all have 5year contracts, which will terminate at the same time as the CE’s office ends. The new bureau secretaries are directly accountable to the CE. If they make
unpopular policy or mistakes, it is possible for the CE to fire them. The ministers
will also be responsible for explaining policy to the Legco and to the public. The top civil servant(s) in the bureaus is renamed permanent secretaries (常任秘
書長) and will remain civil servants. They will still be responsible for helping
the bureau secretaries to devise and explain policy. The bureaus were re-organized and re-structured, its number being reduced from
16 to 11.
5 Spring 2004 L2 The new secretaries are members of Exco, making Exco a cabinet-like decision
making body. The leaders of LP and DAB are made Exco members, who are
supposed to secure support of these two parties in the Legco for the government. 6 Spring 2004 L2 Evaluation thus far It is doubtful if the POAS really makes officials more accountable. Frederick
Ma (馬時亨) did not step down from the penny-stock scandal (仙股事件).
Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀) and Antony Leung (梁錦松) did resign after scandals or
policy failures, but they only cited personal reasons.
It enhances the sense of accountability of the public. The criticisms are now
more directed against the POAS officials rather than at the civil servants.
It clarifies the role of Exco as the major decision-making body, avoiding
conflicts between the Exco and bureau secretaries.
The system did not attract a lot of people outside the civil service to serve as
officials in 2002. The very few that were attracted (e.g., Frederick Ma, Arthur
Li) so far did not receive very good comments. It also means that the CE cannot
really have a team of his officials.
The new Exco did not show very good team spirit or coordination (e.g., during
SARS). There were rumours of infightings between the POAS officials.
The resignation of James Tien shows that the appointment of party leaders into
the government does not guarantee party loyalty to the govt.
The permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants still have policymaking roles, but they do not have to share political responsibilities. This
creates confusion and repeats the old problem. Composition of the Executive Council
1948 Official Members*
7 Spring 2004 L2 1966
14 *Including the Governor 8 ...
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