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Published: 10:39, February 09, 2024 | Updated: 10:39, February 09, 2024
How should government improve efficacy?
By Lau Siu-kai
Published:10:39, February 09, 2024 Updated:10:39, February 09, 2024 By Lau Siu-kai

On July 1, 2022, President Xi Jinping put forward four hopes for the new Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, among which “further improve Hong Kong’s governance” ranked first. President Xi stressed, “To promote the development of the HKSAR, it is urgent to improve Hong Kong’s governance system, governance capacity and governance efficacy.”

After the central government adopted robust policies and measures to bring order back to Hong Kong, the governance capabilities of the HKSAR government have substantially strengthened. However, at the same time, Hong Kong is facing severe challenges such as unrelenting antagonism from the United States and the West, a global economic downturn, weak economic development momentum, intractable social and people’s livelihood problems, and public financial constraints. These severe challenges considerably test the government’s governance capabilities and efficacy. How to transform improved governance capabilities into high-level governance efficacy is a prominent test facing the government.

The HKSAR government must improve governance efficacy amid many adverse economic, social and livelihood circumstances.

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First, the government needs to strengthen cooperation with the central government and rely on the guidance and support of the latter to enhance its governance capabilities further. Today, Hong Kong’s governance model is an organic combination of the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction over the HKSAR and the HKSAR’s high degree of autonomy. With the central government’s staunch support, the HKSAR government’s governance prestige and capabilities have expanded significantly recently. Now it should have the confidence and abilities to overcome the resistance and obstruction within the government and society, allowing some bold and innovative policies and measures to be introduced and implemented. To improve its governance effectiveness, the government must constantly seek endorsement and support from the central government for its governance concept, direction of development, and significant policies.

Second, the government must rigorously and conscientiously comprehend and analyze the complex, changeable and turbulent international situation that Hong Kong is facing. The government must also have an in-depth understanding of the country’s development trends and the central government’s development strategies, draw up a long-term development strategy for Hong Kong, and formulate a set of interrelated policies and measures based on this overall development strategy. In developing this strategy, the government must fully utilize the knowledge and wisdom of experts and scholars from the Chinese mainland and overseas. This development strategy aims to open new international economic development space in the non-Western world and fully exploit the endless development opportunities brought to Hong Kong by national development and the central government’s favorable policies for Hong Kong. President Xi’s admonition to “have a new outlook on the motherland and have an international vision to make better development plans for the region from an overall and long-term perspective” must be given serious attention.

Third, the government’s governance philosophy needs to be further changed. President Xi called for transforming the “concepts of governance to balance the relationship between the government and the market so that a capable government serves an efficient market”. The government has recently eschewed the passive governance dogma of “positive noninterventionism”. It has become more “actively and proactively” involved in economic affairs than before. However, there are still many officials who are “shackled” by the outdated governance philosophy of “small government, big market” and who resist the government’s “intrusive” involvement in the economic arena. To increase governance efficacy, all high-level officials involved in policy formulation must have a strong sense of crisis, responsibility and urgency to undertake the mission of planning capably Hong Kong’s future and sincerely strive to promote the people’s well-being.

Fourth, while public financial resources become increasingly stringent, more must be allocated to tackling the increasingly severe social and people’s livelihood problems. The government cannot avoid implementing “brutal” policies and measures to raise revenue and reduce expenditures. This is bound to cause friction between the government and some people, as well as societal conflicts. These conditions will place higher demands on the government’s narrative ability, governance style and political prowess. The government needs to “educate” the residents about the difficulties, challenges and options facing Hong Kong candidly to create a healthy sense of crisis and urgency in society so that residents know that the government is determined to work together with the public, thereby fostering a sense of confidence that the government can lead Hong Kong out of adversity. At the same time, the government must convince residents that the difficulties Hong Kong faces are short-term in nature and that the “sacrifice” they must pay is worthwhile and will not last long. They should be convinced that Hong Kong will eventually usher in a better tomorrow under the government’s long-term development strategy.

The government needs to coordinate the interests and demands of the government and society as well as various sectors within society, resolve conflicts between them, and prevent disputes from intensifying to maintain social stability.

When adopting policies to deal with adversity, the government must demonstrate fairness, equity and justice. What warrants special attention is that the government needs to demonstrate its ability to break down the barriers of solidified interests and let groups in advantaged positions assume more social responsibilities. The government must win public support for policies and measures biased toward disadvantaged groups.

The government must strengthen its organizational and mobilization capabilities to garner more social resources to support or complement its work. To this end, the relationship between the government and business, professional, social, charitable and public welfare groups must be further strengthened.

Fifth, the government’s ability to research social conditions and public opinion must be enhanced. Residents’ worries and grievances will inevitably rise under economic and financial difficulties, and their demands and discontent with the government will also increase. Through careful and scientific studies, the government can better understand and anticipate changes in social conditions and public opinion, thereby detecting problems early, nipping them in the bud, and preventing the occurrence or exacerbation of crises. The so-called research on social conditions and public opinion encompasses not only opinion polls but also public opinion analysis and online opinion collection. It is equally important for government leaders and officials to make good use of their opportunities to contact people from all walks of life to comprehend social conditions and public opinion. The Home Affairs Bureau and the district officers should play critical roles here. Social conditions and public opinion data from different channels must be integrated, collated, analyzed, interpreted and summarized. This work can be undertaken by the Home Affairs Bureau or the Chief Executive’s Policy Unit.

Sixth, the government must unite, rely on patriotic forces, and cultivate patriotic talents. Under “patriots administering Hong Kong”, the government, as the “core” and leader of the patriotic camp, must strengthen mutual trust and cooperation with patriotic forces, coordinating and integrating the actions and work of patriotic groups and patriotic individuals from different strata and sectors to form a powerful governing force. The government also needs to allow patriotic forces and patriots to actively participate in public affairs and government work in various ways and through different channels. Positions in administrative agencies, statutory organizations and numerous advisory bodies should be open to patriotic forces as much as possible. With the strong support of patriotic forces, the government will encounter less resistance and become more capable in policy formulation and implementation.

The government’s need for more political talent is a significant problem in its governance. In the past, the political struggle in Hong Kong was fierce and rancorous. Many elites regarded politics as daunting and hesitated to join the patriotic camp as it was abused by hostile forces at home and abroad. Nowadays, under “patriots administering Hong Kong”, more and more people are willing to join the ranks of patriots, and there are outstanding talents among them. President Xi stressed the importance of recruiting talent. He observed, “Personnel for public offices should be assessed on both ability and political integrity before they are recruited. Professionals who love the motherland and Hong Kong with strong governance capabilities and have a passion for serving the public should be recruited as government staff.” Some of these talents are reluctant to serve the government indirectly as advisers. Instead, they are eager to become government officials. However, the number of politically appointed positions in the government is limited. The government should devise more flexible methods to allow more patriotic talents to join the government for long or short periods. 

Now that the government is determined to promote Hong Kong’s industrial transformation and upgrading, fully participate in the country’s Five-Year Plan, accelerate Hong Kong’s integration into overall national development, effectively tackle Hong Kong’s deep-seated problems, and vigorously expand Hong Kong’s international economic space, it is imperative to recruit more talent from outside the government, including those from the mainland and overseas, particularly those who have national and international perspectives, boldness and innovativeness, and professional knowledge to compensate for the government’s existing talent shortage.

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Seventh, President Xi demanded “strengthening government management”. To meet Xi’s requirements, one of the essential tasks of the government is to upgrade its ability to lead, manage, control, command and mobilize the civil servants to ensure that they are loyal to the country and the HKSAR, that they uphold the national Constitution and the Hong Kong Basic Law, identify with the new governance philosophy of the current government, faithfully implement the policies and measures of the government, and serve the government and Hong Kong residents wholeheartedly. Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, pointed out, “Hong Kong’s 180,000 civil servants are the backbone of the HKSAR. They should remember their oaths, perform their duties for Hong Kong, fulfill their responsibilities for the people, fully support the chief executive’s governance according to the law, and practice patriotism and love for Hong Kong with actual work results.” In pursuit of the goals advocated by Xia, the government recently revised the Civil Service Code to strengthen the management and accountability of civil servants, simplify the procedures for dismissing incompetent or ineffective civil servants, and allow civil servants with an outstanding performance and superior abilities to enjoy better promotion opportunities. In the future, the government needs to pay close attention to the education and training of civil servants, especially in improving their national awareness, understanding of the country, sense of responsibility for safeguarding national security, knowledge of the “one country, two systems” policy, awareness of the internal and external challenges facing Hong Kong, and support for activist and proactive governance.

Eighth, whether it can accelerate Hong Kong’s integration into the country’s overall development is a crucial indicator for measuring the governance efficacy of the government. For a long time, stemming from prejudice and resistance to the mainland, a narrow understanding of Hong Kong’s vital interests, “anxiety” about losing the HKSAR’s high degree of autonomy, unwillingness to change the “golden rule” of positive noninterventionism, and unwillingness to assume new duties, some officials have adopted a negative or resistant attitude toward promoting a more vital linkage between Hong Kong and the mainland. The government’s leadership team must stand firm about integrating Hong Kong into the country’s overall development and simultaneously instill into senior officials the idea that integrating into the country’s overall development is critical to the survival and growth of Hong Kong under the severe international situation. Its subordinate officials must be ordered to implement and achieve practical results dutifully and effectively, and the corresponding reward, punishment and accountability systems must be instituted.

All in all, when Hong Kong is facing severe challenges, it is urgent to increase efforts to improve the governance capabilities and effectiveness of the government. In the long run, advances in this area will contribute to Hong Kong’s good governance and long-term stability.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a consultant for the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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