Hong Kong civil service applicants to be quizzed on national security law

By on 21/10/2021 | Updated on 21/10/2021
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said the government wants to improve civil servants’ understanding of the city’s sense of national identity

Applicants to civil service jobs in Hong Kong will be required to pass a new test on the city’s mini-constitution and controversial national security law, starting from mid-2022.

The national security law – which makes it easier to punish protesters and reduces the city’s autonomy – has fundamentally changed Hong Kong since it was introduced in June 2020. It sparked protests and has drawn fierce criticism internationally.

The decision to include a test on the law in the recruitment process would make the overall assessment “better‑suited to the requirements of the relevant civil service posts”, according to Hong Kong’s Civil Service Bureau. The bureau is also preparing to review the Basic Law test.

In her policy address earlier this month, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said: “We must enhance civil servants’ understanding of the constitution and the basic law, reinforce a sense of national identity, and deepen their capability for broad and strategic thinking.”

The changes have drawn criticism from some who argue they could put people off applying to the civil service.

“Frontline and technical staff members will not apply the two laws in their daily work, so why do they need to be assessed on that?” said chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, Leung Chau-ting, as reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Administrative officers, members of an elite corps of civil servants who focus on policy formulation, were better candidates for the new test, he said. “[They] should also be tested on the Basic Law and the security law because they are the policymakers.”

The boss in Beijing

Applications for administrative officer roles within Hong Kong’s civil service – which are typically filled by new graduates and command high entry-level salaries of around HK$55,995 (US$7,225) per month – have dropped by 30% this year compared to 2020.

The drop was highlighted by Hong Kong’s secretary for the civil service, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who said on a radio programme on 16 October that the recruitment drive in 2021 attracted only 9,700 applicants for administrative officer jobs, compared to 14,000 last year.

SCMP suggested the drop in applicants reflects Beijing’s growing influence on Hong Kong, which could be alienating graduates.

Hong Kong’s government is meanwhile preparing to build a Civil Service College in Kwun Tong, a district based in the eastern part of the Kowloon Peninsula. Lam said in her policy address that the college would “further strengthen civil service training and… rigorously uphold the loyalty and integrity of civil servants”.

In August last year, she warned new civil service recruits that they risked losing their jobs by creating a “negative impression” of the administration on the internet.

Adding insult to injury

In other news, Hong Kong is considering banning the act of insulting civil servants, a move similar to one currently under review that aims to protect police officers from forms of non-physical abuse.

“I seriously think we need to study this topic,” Lam said during recent questions at the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

“It shouldn’t just be about the disciplined forces. So many food and environmental hygiene officers of ours have also faced insults on the front line. Our staff from the Lands Department are even met with physical clashes.”

Lam stressed that the willingness of citizens to refrain from insulting public officials and law enforcers remained “the most important thing”.

“The law is just a means,” she said. Chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, Lo Kin-hei, said: “The government doesn’t try to earn the respect of its people. Instead, they just try to criminalise anyone who dislikes them and expresses themselves in a not-so-decent way.”

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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