Hongkong: The death of Sir Philip Haddon-Cave is a reminder of the standards and qualities we ought to be able to expect of top civil servants.

The death of Sir Philip Haddon-Cave has been a reminder of the
qualities one should look for in senior civil servants, and
which have been becoming rarer in the 14 years since he

The Haddon-Cave ethos is especially important now that the
Tung Chee-hwa government has made so clear its determination
to move back from quasi-representative government to his
"executive-led" formula. In other words, Tung is taking it
back to the same principles as existed in the Haddon-cave
heyday of a strong colonial bureaucratic executive and rubber
stamp legislature. But does it also have the procedural
ethical checks and balances which Haddon-Cave believed were
central to good government? To be a senior civil servant was a
vocation, to be satisfied by integrity and performance.
Strict procedures and balances and were necessary to prevent
colonial paternalism degenerating into arbitrary exercise of
power and the tendency of power to corrupt.

One principle of the colonial civil service that Haddon-Cave
practiced was that on retirement senior servants should leave
the territory and rely on their generous pensions rather than
stay around using their connections and status to acquire well
paid but un-onerous directorships of local companies in the
belief, real or imagined, that their connections can deliver
commercial benefits. Departure is not an option for local
civil servant retirees, but the principle behind it should
still hold.

Another principle of Haddon-Cave was never to comment publicly
on the performance of his successors or attempt to influence
the fundamental policies of the government. Though in a
colonial set-up civil servants had to take political decisions
they were not politicians. They were paid for by the community
at large and as far as possible should be seen to be neutral,
doing their best for public interests within the context of
the political framework.

It is noteable that in respect of both the above principles,
the Haddon-Cave philosophy was discarded by his successor, Sir
David Akers-Jones, who used his position in retirement in a
miserable effort to try to undermine the policies of the
Patten administration.   

Haddon-Cave was a died-in-the-wool colonial paternalist who
had no great enthusiasm for moves towards representative
government, perhaps failing to see how it could be used to
defend some of the principles he held dear against arbitrary
or corrupt tendencies. However, he was a firm believer in the
need to justify his actions to the public. Many thought his
budget speeches long and boring. But they were intellectual
feats which his successors did not try to equal. Here was all
the detail and all the thinking, all the theoretical and
practical explanation for his decisions. Policies sat within a
complete intellectual framework, they were not just a series
of ad hoc measures to meet particular circumstances. Many of
his guidelines survive unaltered. He was prepared to argue his
case to the full, but also face bebuttal. He was, for example,
in favour of a dividend tax and appointed a tax reform
commission he set up to examine this and other proposals. He
accepted the commission's rejection of dividend tax with good
grace. He also showed the utmost respect for judicial
decision, even if he had good reason to doubt the wisdom or
sobriety of a particular judge. In sum, he knew that
institutions not individuals were the bedrock of good

Despite a forbiddingly English manner, and a curious distaste
for Chinese food, Haddon-Cave was very open to journalists so
long as they showed they had done their homework. He enjoyed a
good debate and genuinely believed that civil servants had a
duty to be able to defend their decisions in public. He did so
with intellectual assurance but personal humility. Indeed,
that a is quality that Haddon-Cave's most fervent admirer and
sole intellectual equal in the current administration, Joseph
Yam, could yet learn from his late mentor.

In short, Haddon-Cave needs to be remembered because he
represented most of the better instincts of colonial
bureaucracy. Now some of the worst instincts of that type are
in the ascendant.




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