Professional needed as top environmental regulator
The public was invited to make deputations before the Legislative Council's Environmental Affairs Panel last month. In its submission, Civic Exchange noted the potential for conflict of interest caused by the merging of the roles of the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Permanent Secretary for the Environment (PSE) in 2005. This is important because the positions encompass two different but fundamentally contradictory roles.
The DEP presides over the statutory EIA mechanism - specifically the application of the EIA Ordinance (EIAO) and Technical Memorandum (TM) - a process that involves substantial technical and legislative complexities and a high degree of professional judgment. In this role the DEP acts as the regulator, responsible for approving EIA reports and issuing environmental permits for major development projects.
Up until 2005, when the roles of DEP and PSE were merged, the position of the DEP was held by a senior environmental professional, a career environmental scientist with long experience in the technical issues and legislation that underpinned the implementation of the EIAO.
The PSE plays a different role, formulating and delivering the policy objectives of the current Administration, taking into account political considerations and preferences of the governing team. This position has always been filled by an Administrative Officer (AO).
While AOs have strong administrative experience, often across a range of policy areas, they usually do not have the subject knowledge in environmental issues, including the professional training and experience required of the ultimate decision maker of the highly technical EIA process.
Commenting on the purpose for the merger in 2005 the then PSE noted:
The second stated objective of the merger was to:
"improve service delivery and bring about efficiency gains in the area of environmental protection" and "net reduction of four directorate grade posts, bringing about savings of $8.85 million per annum in staff costs."
As a result of the merger the DEP is no longer an experienced environmental professional, but an AO who must rely on the advice of others, and consider political issues to reach "synergy between policy formulation and implementation".