Hong Kong civil servants should be allowed to join legal rallies against government policies despite the sweeping national security law and a new red line drawn by Beijing on oath-taking, according to a think tank led by a pro-establishment heavyweight.
Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who now leads the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, on Friday also urged the administration to roll out clear guidelines on what words and actions constituted a breach of oath to allay the concerns of the city’s 177,000 civil servants.
The suggestions were floated two days after the country’s top legislative body endorsed a resolution requiring the removal of any member of Legco found to have violated their duty of allegiance or endangered national security. Four opposition lawmakers were immediately stripped of their seats.
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While the resolution did not directly target civil servants, some questioned whether the new red line would eventually be applied to government workers hired since July, who as part of new employment conditions had to take an oath to uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and pledge allegiance to the city.
Releasing a report on civil service oath-taking requirements on Friday, the think tank’s senior researcher Kay Lam Chi-yan said breaches should be limited to speech and behaviour aimed at achieving Hong Kong independence or overthrowing the government.
“If any legal assembly aims only to oppose a certain government policy and does not involve the ‘one country, two systems’ principle defined by the Basic Law, participants shouldn’t be considered as not upholding the Basic Law,” she said.
“Their political expressions should be protected if participants do not reveal their identity as a public officer.”
The Civil Service Code requires public officers to stay politically neutral, and not to engage in parties and political activities in their official capacity.
The think tank also opposed any direct ban on civil servants’ online remarks against government policies, with Lam saying the line should be drawn at whether such behaviour would embarrass the administration or be perceived as detrimental to the civil service’s image of political neutrality.
Meanwhile, she said workers, including unions, should also refrain from openly supporting government policies outside the scope of their work.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen revealed on Wednesday that more than 2,600 employees who joined from July 1 had already signed declarations to pledge their allegiance.
The Civil Service Bureau, however, has not laid out scenarios for possible breaches or what might constitute a violation of the oath.
The government had earlier recommended that certain groups of public officers – such as those involved in decision-making, carried out sensitive duties or were recommended for promotion – should take their oath first.
A source from the bureau said the government would not require civil servants other than new hires to make the declaration before clear guidelines on what constituted breaches were set.
As of September, at least 46 civil servants had been suspended after being arrested or prosecuted over illegal public events during the year-long social unrest that rocked Hong Kong from June 2019.
Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, feared it was the institute’s wishful thinking that the administration would adopt a loose threshold on what might constitute a breach of oath, considering Beijing’s tough policies towards Hong Kong.
He said the authorities had not consulted his group but he had heard that colleagues from various departments submitted their concerns to the bureau.
“There is a consensus among us that clear guidelines are necessary for us in order not to fall foul of the rules,” he said.
Separately, Tsang said it would be unfair to call the legislature a “rubber stamp” following the mass resignation of opposition lawmakers in the wake of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s resolution.
“[The resignations] will pile pressure on pro-establishment lawmakers to perform better. If they just sit still and raise their hands to approve bills without saying a word, they will face the consequences in the next election,” he said.
He urged both camps to do something constructive to garner support for the Legco elections postponed to next September.
A spokesman for the bureau said it was aware of the report’s contents and would take into account the suggestions when examining the relevant aspects of civil service management.
This article Hong Kong civil servants should still be allowed to join legal rallies against government policies, says think tank led by pro-establishment heavyweight Jasper Tsang first appeared on South China Morning Post