International Handbook of Public Management Reform
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International Handbook of Public Management Reform

Edited by Shaun Goldfinch and Joe L. Wallis

This major Handbook provides a state-of-the-art study of the recent history and future development of international public management reform.
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Chapter 18: Public Management Reform in Hong Kong

Anthony B.L. Cheung


Anthony B.L. Cheung Basic institutions of public management Hong Kong has a unique system of government. Before its reversion to China to become a highly autonomous special administrative region (SAR) on 1 July 1997, it was governed as a British colony. The colonial legacy left a Civil Service system based on the British model and a legal system based on English law. Some 150 years of colonial rule under a British governor with almost autocratic power had also established an administrative state dominated by bureaucrats (Harris 1978: 53–61), whose legitimacy hinged on the support of business and professional elites co-opted into government councils (the executive and legislative councils) and committees through a process of ‘administrative absorption of politics’ (King 1981). The immense powers enjoyed by the colonial governor characterized the nature of what was subsequently alluded to as the ‘executive-led’ system of governance. Since the 1970s, supported by consistent attempts at Civil Service improvement and modernization, the extension of administrative absorption to the district level, and the wider use of public consultation, the bureaucracy had become the main pioneer of policy and management reforms. Bureaucratic reformism, sustained by fiscal surplus during a long period of economic growth, helped secure some degree of conditional public acceptance. In the final years of British rule, the last Governor, Chris Patten, quickened the pace of politicization and made the government more open and responsive to the legislature and local public opinion. After the handover, the new SAR government, though not constituted on the...

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