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Hong Kong rated least bureaucratic in Asia
By Tonny Chan (China Daily HK Edition)
Updated: 2004-08-04 09:28

Hong Kong has surpassed Singapore to become the least bureaucratic region in Asia, a poll of expatriates working in 12 Asian countries and regions has found.

Hong Kong's rating in beating red tape has leaped significantly from grade 3.11 to grade 1.9.

On the scale of bureaucracy, grades range from zero to 10. Zero is the best possible and 10 the most heavily bound in red tape.

The study was conducted by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd (PERC). The questions were based on how expatriates perceived the civil service in the Asian states in which they worked.

Singapore, rated the least bureaucratic country last year, has also improved but by a lesser degree. Its grade of 2.8 last year improved slightly to 2.5. But it slipped into second place behind Hong Kong.

Other countries and regions covered by the study were India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Viet Nam, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.

Expatriates working on the mainland found that the civil service was still heavily bureaucratic (with a rating of 8.69). It was followed only by India at 8.9. Last year, the Chinese mainland and India rated 7.75 and 9 respectively.

James Sung, principal lecturer in the School of Continuing and Professional Education at City University of Hong Kong, said the findings caught him by surprise, although Hong Kong and Singapore had always been considered the least bureaucratic in Asia.

Describing Hong Kong's improvement as dramatic, Sung told China Daily that the leap was believed to be related to increased efforts by the government to respond to social aspirations.

"In the past two years, Hong Kong has become more political and there exists a sense of crisis among the civil servants. In the face of it, they have become more ready to respond to the pleas of society," Sung said.

"Increased efforts in privatizing more government services also have a role to play in it," he said. "For many, there is no longer the 'iron-rice bowl' theory."

Sung noted that more senior officials were proactively reaching out to the business community lately and this helped create a better perception among expatriates doing business in Hong Kong.

Less efficient

According to the same study, many expatriates also feel the civil service has become less efficient in Hong Kong. The related rating slipped from grade 3.39 in 2003 to grade 3.5 this year. This is for the second consecutive year that the efficiency index has dropped. In 2002, it was at 3.26.

In terms of civil service efficiency, Singapore leads the rank with grade 1.63, followed by Japan at second (grade 2.05) and Hong Kong third. The Chinese mainland ranks fifth.

Sung said the slip was only natural as government - more concerned about public sentiments than before - became more cautious to avoid attracting criticisms. "They are bound to stick to the procedure and handle things in a more balanced manner."

Although the results were at the cost to the civil service of efficiency, Sung said officials had become more open-minded.

Citing the study findings, Secretary for Civil Service Joseph Wong said in a letter to all civil servants that "while we should take pride in the high rating achieved in the survey, there is no room for complacency".

"According to the most recent survey by the same institution, Hong Kong continues to have the best reputation for holding bureaucracy to a minimum. However, the perception of the efficiency of the Hong Kong civil service has declined slightly since 2002," Wong said.

He said the government was keen to promote a customer-oriented culture in the civil service, and urged civil servants to put forward suggestions to their departments and the bureau to improve efficiency and public service quality.

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