19 September 2019
Hong Kong's top four officials earn between HK$3.7 million and HK$4.45 million each year, putting them among the highest paid government servants in the world. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua
Hong Kong's top four officials earn between HK$3.7 million and HK$4.45 million each year, putting them among the highest paid government servants in the world. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua

Govt paychecks: The big gravy train

Hong Kong said earlier this year that the remuneration of the chief executive and other politically appointed officials will be restored to the levels that prevailed before a pay cut took place in 2009.

The salaries were being restored as the economy has turned around, the government said.

The move means that Leung Chun-ying’s monthly paycheck has risen from HK$351,000 to HK$371,000.

The HK$20,000 increase is higher than what many wage-earners in the city make for an entire month.

According to figures from the Census and Statistics Department, the median monthly wage across all industries, excluding government employees, stood at HK$14,800 in mid-2014.

Meanwhile, a survey has shown that private employers in general have become more conservative about wage growth for the coming year.

Firms plan to offer hikes of only about 4 percent, revealed the survey, which was conducted jointly by the Hong Kong People Management Association and Hong Kong Baptist University in September. 

The expected increment would translate to less than HK$700 per month for most of the working class.

But it is a different situation when it comes to our top officials.

The chief executive’s post, for instance, comes with a fat remuneration package, much higher than that enjoyed by top leaders in most other countries.

Leung rakes in no less than HK$4.45 million of taxpayers’ money a year, while US President Barack Obama earns about US$400,000 (HK$3.1 million).

Among other overseas leaders, Britain’s David Cameron has an annual salary of £142,500 (HK$1.67 million), while Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou makes the equivalent of HK$1.52 million a year. As for Chinese President Xi Jinping, his annual salary is said to be 137,000 yuan (HK$166,733).

The only head of governmental agency in Hong Kong that makes more money than Leung is Norman Chan Tak-lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, who reportedly received a total of HK$9.92 million last year. But the de facto central banker is generally not considered a member of the government as HKMA operates with a high degree of autonomy.

Now, how about Hong Kong’s other principal officials?

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remuneration package is HK$330,565 per month, or HK$3.96 million a year.

Corresponding figures for Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and all other ministerial-level secretaries (directors of bureaus) are HK$319,385, HK$308,585 and HK$298,115 per month respectively.

These packages, as revealed in a report from the Independent Commission on Remuneration, were approved by the Legislative Council’s Financial Committee in 2002 and 2007 and have been in effect despite two pay cuts in 2003 and 2009.

Now, many citizens doubt if the huge salaries can be justified for all the top officials, given their under-performance and many blunders.

Judging from their work and popularity ratings, the public will have a fair judgment about whether Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim, Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and Information Coordinator Andrew Fung Wai-kwong deserve the handsome emoluments they take home.

Other than cash, there are generous fringe benefits on offer for the chief executive, secretaries and directors. Among other things, there is annual leave of 22 days, medical and dental benefits, entertainment allowance, a government limousine (Leung mainly rides a HK$950,000 Lexus LS600HL Hybrid while Lam, Tsang, Yuen and other officials travel in HK$660,000 black Volkswagen Phaeton sedans).

They are also allocated official residences.

Leung lives in the Government House, a neo-classical, magnificent mansion in the Central district. Lam’s residence is the Victoria House on Barker Road, the Peak, not too far away from Yuen’s place on Severn Road and also commanding sweeping view of the harbor. Tsang’s villa is on Shouson Hill near Deep Water Bay in Southern District.

So it’s no wonder that a government job is regarded as an “iron rice bowl”. In the context of Hong Kong, it means a job that is not only decent and stable — immune from economic upheavals and layoffs — but also with loads of cash and other perks.

This explains why the rush for civil servant jobs remains strong even in a free economy like ours. The Hong Kong Economic Journal reported in September that the government received 12,000 applications for 35 entry-level administrative officer vacancies.

In case you are wondering, those positions come with baseline monthly salary of HK$47,235.

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Government House, the official residence of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Photo: pierojian

Residence of the financial secretary near Deep Water Bay in Southern District. Photo: Soldier

Victoria House, official residence of the chief secretary, is in the upscale Peak district. Photo: WordPress

EJ Insight writer