Date
27 July 2017
Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing's Liaison Office, has stressed that allowing separatists to become lawmakers will constitute a violation of Hong Kong's Basic Law and 'One Country Two Systems'. Photo: HKEJ
Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing's Liaison Office, has stressed that allowing separatists to become lawmakers will constitute a violation of Hong Kong's Basic Law and 'One Country Two Systems'. Photo: HKEJ

Political impartiality of civil servants is on the line

The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) dropped a political bombshell this month by announcing that anyone intending to run in the upcoming Legco election must sign a declaration pledging allegiance to the Basic Law, especially the articles that stipulate that Hong Kong is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China.

This sudden and unexpected move indicates that Beijing is prepared to go to any length to crack down on separatism in Hong Kong.

Shortly after the EAC chairman Fung Wah had met with pan-democrats over the new measure, Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office, publicly weighed in on the issue by stressing that allowing separatists to become lawmakers would constitute an outright violation of the Basic Law and “One Country Two Systems”.

He added that it is a matter of principle and national unity, and hence there is absolutely no room for bargaining.

In other words, requiring candidates to sign that declaration is nothing more than a political decision sugarcoated in legal technicality. After a meeting with Fung, pan-democrats vowed that they will not sign the declaration, even though it might put their candidacy at risk, as they are against any form of political censorship.

Then on the next day the EAC reiterated that the returning officers (i.e. civil servants who oversee the process of election) have the legal authority to seek further information from any candidate who refuses to sign the declaration, and that the officers will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice and act accordingly.

The funny thing is, I went through the entire Legislative Council Ordinance and just couldn’t find a single clause that authorizes returning officers to do so.

The EAC’s decision suddenly puts returning officers in the forefront. At a public event Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said  the power to decide whether a candidate is eligible to run in the upcoming Legco election rests fully with the returning officers, not the SAR government nor the EAC.

It is apparent that the civil servants are once again being used as a tool to undertake a political task given by the government on Beijing’s orders. Doesn’t that constitute an outright infringement of the political impartiality of the civil service?

What is really outrageous here is that the civil servants are again left to their own devices on such highly sensitive issue as to deciding whether a person is eligible to run, while the political masters are sitting on the sidelines keeping away from any possible controversy.

That allows the civil servants to take the blame if the whole thing triggers a backlash among the public.

I am totally against the idea of secession from the mainland, but I am also against any attempt to put our civil servants in the line of political fire and undermine their long-standing political impartiality.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 27.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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