Chief Secretary

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Entrance signed "Colonial Secretary" of the Chief Secretary's Building in Sydney (1873). A statue of Queen Victoria is barely visible through the door.

The Chief Secretary is the title of a senior civil servant in certain members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and, historically, in the British Empire. Prior to the dissolution of the colonies, the Chief Secretary was the second most important official in a colony of the British Empire after the Governor, typically termed the Colonial Secretary and often an office held by the Premier or a similar politically elected minister, and with a portfolio which were equivalent to what was later termed the Home Secretary's office.



Originally the secretary to the Governor as well as secretary of the Colony this office was at first known as the Colonial Secretary or Principal Secretary outside British North America where the equivalent title was Provincial Secretary. In 1821, Governor of New South Wales Philip Gidley King wrote that the Colonial Secretary:

"Has the custody of all official papers and records belonging to the colony; transcribes the public despatches; charged with making out all grants, leases and other public Colonial instruments; also the care of numerous indents or lists sent with convicts of their terms of conviction, and every other official transaction relating to the Colony and Government; and is a situation of much responsibility and confidence."[1]

In Ireland, the role of Chief Secretary dated from 1660.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century[edit]

The Colonial Secretary in the Colony of New South Wales and most of the other Australian colonies during the nineteenth century was a political position and not the position of a civil servant. The Colonial Secretary was thus a government minister and politician and the position was fundamentally equivalent to the later term 'Home Secretary' and it was commonly (but not always) held by the Colonial Prime Minister, later referred to as Premier. The function of Colonial Secretary and secretary to the Governor were thus separated in 1824 and several Australian colonies renamed their 'Colonial Secretary' as 'Home Secretary' during the 1890s and just before separation.[citation needed]

After the grant of responsible government, this office like its British equivalent, the First Lord of the Treasury was frequently the formal position held by the Colonial Premier because the office of Premier was not mentioned in any legislation. The Cape Colony was unusual in giving the Colonial Secretary at the Cape responsibility for defence.[2] Several of the Australian states and territories retained the title for many decades, the Chief Secretary's Departments ultimately evolving into the modern Premier's Departments in those states, although the Chief Secretary position itself became separate from that of the Premier, and evolved differently in different jurisdictions: in some places it became the equivalent of the British Home Secretary or a Minister of the Interior elsewhere. New Zealand abolished the office in 1907.

In countries or territories[edit]

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and some other independent states which were British Colonies still have Chief Secretaries in the provinces, who are next in line after the Governors or Chief Ministers and hold superior powers in the bureaucracy.


Hong Kong[edit]

The title of Colonial Secretary in Hong Kong was changed to Chief Secretary in 1976 and to Chief Secretary for Administration in 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China.


In India each state and some Union Territories have Chief Secretaries. As such the Chief Secretary serves as Chief of all government staff in the state and is the Secretary of the State Cabinet of Ministers. The post of Chief Secretary is encadred within the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) meaning that only an IAS officer may hold this position. The Chief Secretary holds the same rank as a Secretary to the Government of India and the post falls within the "Apex Scale". Other positions in this payscale are Additional or Special Chief Secretary and Special Secretary to the Government of India. By tradition the seniormost IAS officer of the state cadre is chosen as the Chief Secretary but in many cases this is not so. The Chief Secretary heads the Department of General Administration as well. The Secretary is the ex officio advisior to the councils of ministers.


In Pakistan there are six Chief Secretaries, one for each of the four provinces and one each for Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas (Gilgit Agency). In Pakistan and India, Chief Secretaries are bureaucrats of Grade 21 and 22

Sri Lanka[edit]

In Sri Lanka there are nine Chief Secretaries, one for each of the nine provinces. A Chief Secretary is a Special Grade officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and is equivalent to a Permanent Secretary of the central government.


The Chief Secretary, known as the Colonial Secretary from 1946 to 1955, was one of the highest ranking government civil positions in the colonial Singapore.

Other parts of the world[edit]

Territories with Chief Secretaries included Nigeria, Kenya and Tanganyika. Smaller territories, like British Guiana, used the term Colonial Secretary instead.

The Isle of Man also has a Chief Secretary, currently Will Greenhow, who is head of the island's civil service.

See also[edit]