Pay Donald Tsang

HONG KONG - FACED with public uproar over the high salaries of new political appointees, the Hong Kong government says competitive pay is necessary to nurture political talent.

In an effort to attract 'capable and enthusiastic candidates', Chief Executive Donald Tsang last month announced the creation of 17 government posts - eight deputy ministers and nine political assistants.

What Mr Tsang did not expect was the public furore which was to follow.

He has been criticized for providing vague job descriptions for the new appointees. The only thing he has made clear is that they will help to improve accountability and efficiency.

The government has also found itself caught in a public row over the new appointees' 'fat pay packets'.

After initially refusing to disclose salaries, citing their right to privacy, Mr Tsang last week gave in to public pressure and revealed the salaries being paid, but not who gets what.

The monthly pay for the deputy ministers is between HK$208,680 (S$36,400) and HK$223,585.

The political assistants' pay is between HK$134,150 and HK$163,960 a month.

Liberal Party chief James Tien was one of many who questioned whether some of the new appointees offered value for money.

The youngest appointee, Mr Paul Chan, 28, who has been appointed political assistant to the Health Secretary, has drawn the most attention.

His new salary, at no less than HK$134,150, is a sharp rise from his previous monthly pay package as a research assistant and part-time lecturer, estimated to be in the range of HK$20,000 to HK$30,000.

'In the civil service, it is not unusual for someone aged about 30 to have reached the rank of senior administrative officer,' the director of the Chief Executive's Office, Mr Norman Chan, told the South China Morning Post.

Mr Tsang says the public service has to offer competitive salaries in order to attract new talent.

Some political experts agree, saying that Hong Kong's ageing legislature - 24 out of 60 lawmakers are over 60 years old - needs new political talent to stay relevant.

Former senior government officials have also weighed in.

The government 'got off on the wrong foot' when it initially refused to disclose the salaries, said former treasury secretary John Chan, according to media reports.

'Even listed companies have to disclose the remuneration packages of management.'

In another embarrassment for the administration, some of the new appointees have come under fire for holding dual citizenship.

Under Hong Kong law, foreigners can 'serve as public servants... at all levels', save in a few specified posts.

Faced with public outrage for being 'unpatriotic', five deputy ministers who held dual citizenship gave up their foreign passports.

Former civil service minister Joseph Wong said the controversy was a dose of political reality for the new appointees.

'What is lawful may not be right politically. Politics is politics. It's never a privacy or a legal issue,' he said.

In a column in the South China Morning Post, Mr Wong wrote: 'Yours is a political job. And political sensitivity and ability are what you have to demonstrate to win respect, inside and outside the government.'

A comparison of the monthly salaries of some current officials and those of new appointees:

* Chief Executive Donald Tsang: HK$334,758 (S$58,400)
* Financial Secretary John Tsang: HK$298,333
* Legislative Council president Rita Fan: HK$130,526
* New deputy ministers: HK$208,680 to HK$223,585
* New political assistants, including Paul Chan: HK$134,150 to HK$163,960

This article was first published in The Straits Times on June 7, 2008.

A long time coming, this reprint, but where have we seen this all before? But no present day government has ever pulled off having a dud post called "Minister without Portfolio" with dud full ministerial pay. Still observe how far off the HK post-raised salaries are in comparison to our esteemed and royal-blood-coursing-through-veins politicians.

As I asked an astute cabbie once: "Lim Boon Heng chor simi lan?". His reply: "Chor bo lan lor!". Nuff said.



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