Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Annex 4



  1.  The Chief Executive is the head of the Hong Kong SAR Government (HKSARG) and is accountable to the Central People's Government and to the HKSARG itself. The Chief Executive's powers and functions include implementing laws, signing bills and budgets passed by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, deciding on government policies and issuing executive orders, nominating and reporting to the Central People's Government the appointment of principal officials, and appointing and removing judges and holders of public office.


  2.  The Chief Executive is assisted by the Executive Council (ExCo), which serves as the Cabinet. This currently comprises the Chief Secretary, the Secretary for Finance and the Secretary for Justice and 15 non-official members (community, business, academia and party representatives), in making important policy decisions and subsidiary legislation. The 14 official members (the principal officials or Secretaries of the Government Bureaux and Departments) only attend ExCo when their specific subjects are under discussion.

  3.  Following criticisms that senior officials, traditionally drawn from the Civil Service, were not being held accountable for policy mistakes, the former Chief Executive introduced a new system on 1 July 2002 for appointing top officials, termed the "accountability system". The principal officials are now political appointees on fixed term contracts who are responsible for making and presenting policy. They are "accountable" to the Chief Executive who can sack them for serious mistakes; and they serve for a period no longer than that of the Chief Executive who appointed them.

  4.  When Donald Tsang became Chief Executive he further reformed the ExCo by removing these principal officials from collective discussions in ExCo and by strengthening the participation of non-official members. However, only the principal officials are individually accountable.


  5.  LegCo's main functions are: enacting laws; examining and approving HKSARG budgets, taxation and public expenditure; monitoring the HKSARG; endorsing the appointment and removal of judges of the Court of Final Appeal and the Chief Judge of the High Court; and debating issues of public interest. Legislators have limited powers and, although there is no Government party, the voting mechanism has meant that the HKSARG has generally had little difficulty passing legislation.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

13 December 2005

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