29 January 2020
Several civil servants have joined calls, albeit anonymously, in Hong Kong for the government to address the demands of young people following the recent social unrest in the city. Photo: HKEJ
Several civil servants have joined calls, albeit anonymously, in Hong Kong for the government to address the demands of young people following the recent social unrest in the city. Photo: HKEJ

Many civil servants are also unhappy with the govt

The simmering tensions in society following the extradition bill crisis have spilled over into the civil service, with many officials dismayed at the recent turn of events in the city.

Last week, many civil servants of various grades from different departments issued anonymous joint statements condemning the police’s dereliction of duty during the July 21 attacks in Yuen Long and demanding answers to public calls for an independent commission of inquiry.

Among those who issued the joint statements were more than 500 executive officers (EOs) and more than a hundred administrative officers (AOs). AOs are often considered by many as the elites in the Hong Kong civil service.

Meanwhile, another group of 200-plus civil servants who had also taken part in the initiative have warned that they might consider launching industrial actions in the coming days.

As it is becoming clear that a large number of civil servants are getting increasingly disaffected with the government leadership and aren’t afraid of standing up and being counted, we can conclude that the Carrie Lam administration is now facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Leung Chau-ting, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Civil Service Unions, said on Sunday that there has been quite a lot of talk of strike actions among government workers.

Mindful of the simmering grievances among civil servants, Joshua Law Chi-kong, Secretary for the Civil Service, wrote on Civil Service Bureau’s social media page last week that he totally understands that his colleagues have a desire to express their views on the recent events

Yet, given the current situation, he urged colleagues to remain firm and uphold their professionalism and duty to serve the citizens.

It is understood that the follow-up action within the administration over the potential actions of EOs and AOs has gone far beyond pep talk.

A civil servant who has signed a joint letter revealed that shortly before or after their statement was released last week, some EOs and AOs were summoned to see their superiors, who expressed “concerns” about their joint actions.

As a matter of fact, news about the release of the joint letter by AOs had been widely circulating within the government before the letter was finally issued on Friday evening.

It is believed that the superiors summoned the AOs involved to find out more about what was going on. Even so, the AOs weren’t barred from pressing ahead with their planned action.

But some of the EOs were required to speak with their bosses afterwards, during which they were asked questions about, among other things, who spearheaded the action of issuing the joint letter, what they can do to help the situation, as well as whether the matter should be put up for discussion internally.

It is understood that before the EOs released their joint letter last Thursday, they had asked some senior officers of their grade to fine-tune the wording in order to put forward their demands in a more objective and impartial manner.

The involvement of senior EOs in drafting the letter indicates that the joint action was far from being just an initiative carried out by a bunch of young and less senior civil servants who were desperate to let off steam.

As to how the authorities were able to grasp the identities of those who had signed the joint letter despite the anonymous statement, a source explained that some of them could have given away their identity carelessly, such as having forgotten to cover the names of the specific departments to which they belong or their rank titles.

These clues could have allowed the authorities to easily pinpoint those who had participated in the joint initiative, in government departments with relatively small staff size.

Another figure in the government noted that it is normally difficult for colleagues to make their voices heard at a time when the city is fraught with political and social tensions.

But now that the joint letters have received wide publicity, the government should desist from any attempts to mount a witch hunt, the person said.

Looking at the overall situation, we can conclude that at this point in time there is no silver bullet that can resolve the discontent among the civil service, the government figure added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.