Minister warns HK civil servants should not publicly criticise government, grant interviews to ‘anti-China’ media

19-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong civil servants can continue to voice their concerns over pay and working conditions, but they cannot publicly criticise the government or its policies, particularly now that they must take oaths pledging allegiance to the city, the civil service minister has warned.

Speaking at a Legislative Council meeting on Monday, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said it was clear those guidelines also meant not granting interviews to media outlets regarded as “anti-China”. He did not elaborate on which outlets might meet that designation.

But while many civil servants have yet to take the new oath a requirement under the Beijing-imposed national security law the Civil Service Bureau will also be following up with any city employees who broke the Civil Service Code before the oath was introduced, he added.

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“If someone has retired or left the government, but there are [unlawful] remarks or actions that took place when they were still civil servants, we will still need to follow up,” Nip warned.

The bureau on Friday asked all employees hired before July 1 to take the pledge by mid-February.

The government had earlier made it mandatory for those who joined from July 1 to sign a declaration pledging allegiance.

Those who refuse could be asked to leave their posts.

In new guidelines issued last week, the administration underscored that anyone aiming to destabilise the administration or stir up anti-government sentiment that might trigger social unrest would be in violation of their oaths.

The Union for New Civil Servants, a civil servants’ group formed during the 2019 anti-government protests, became the first to disband on Saturday, with its chair, Michael Ngan Mo-chau, confirming the move was in response to the new oath-taking requirement.

Attending the Legco’s public service panel meeting on Monday, Nip was asked by pro-establishment lawmakers if members of the disbanded union would be penalised.

Pro-Beijing legislator Elisabeth Quat asked: “The Union for New Civil Servants has disbanded. If its core members sign the declaration, would that be accepted?”

Nip replied that he would not comment on whether members of a particular group had deviated from the principle of political neutrality.

“But we are investigating all cases of civil servants who broke various laws or regulations since the [anti-government] unrest broke out,” he said.

In a letter delivered to workers on September 30, the minister revealed 46 civil servants had been suspended after being arrested or prosecuted for taking part in illegal public events.

Speaking on a Monday radio programme, Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said he knew a minority of civil servants who would not sign the declaration, and would rather leave the government. He said he was also worried unions could be penalised for organising rallies to fight for their rights, or for giving interviews to media outlets deemed anti-China.

But pro-Beijing legislator Leung Che-cheung said it was “naive” for any civil servant to ask whether it was acceptable to take such media interviews. “As civil servants… you must serve the city’s residents in the executive branch,” he said.

Nip said while he agreed with Che-cheung, it was also clear it was the job of unions to reflect their membership’s views and fight for their rights, especially on pay, benefits and working environment.

“It was also acceptable to make public comments on how the government can do better, but can you take interviews from anti-China outlets? I think the answer is very clear,” he said.

At a press conference on the Designated Quarantine Hotel Scheme on Monday afternoon, Nip was asked to elaborate on whether civil servants could still participate in peaceful rallies.

The minister said that, just like other residents, civil servants’ freedom of speech, assembly, procession and demonstration was protected under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.


Category: Hong Kong

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