'Secret' Beijing trip blamed on mix-up
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday blamed 'internal communications problems' for the administration's failure to publicise Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim's trip to Beijing this week.
The administration has been accused of trying to keep secret the meeting with Ministry of Education officials, which comes amid a flare up in tensions over the government's plan to implement a national education curriculum.
But Lam denied any subterfuge. She said someone in the administration was confused by two policies about publicising out-of-town trips.
One is the requirement that top officials appoint someone to act in their stead when they leave Hong Kong for more than 24 hours. The other is the government's long-standing practice of publicising any out-of-town trips.
Apparently, someone - Lam did not say whom - thought no advance notice was necessary because Ng was to be gone for less than a day.
'It was due to internal communications problems as far as I understand,' she said. 'Somehow in this particular incident the two sets of arrangements have been mixed up.'
Lam said the government would be sure to publicise any out-of-town trips by top officials in future.
Hong Kong Journalists Association spokeswoman Hung Suet-yee rejected Lam's explanation.
'How it was explained was ridiculous,' Hung said. 'Transparency is paramount to a modern government. But the chief secretary for administration was trying to put the blame to an inferior.'
The International Federation of Journalists issued a statement saying that it was deeply disappointed by the decision by the government not to publicise Ng's visit. 'It is the right of all citizens to know the activities and expenditure of its appointed representatives,' the statement said.
Ng's office has described the meeting, which was not known until it was reported in the media, as a simple courtesy call, although a spokesman acknowledged it 'touched on' controversial government-funded teaching materials that have been criticised as biased toward Beijing.
The government has urged primary schools to begin implementing the national education curriculum this September in advance of the compulsory start date in 2015. Secondary schools must implement the curriculum by 2016.
Lam said the timetable gave schools plenty of time to prepare.
But the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) again urged the government to consider scrapping the subject because it overlaps civic education programmes that already exist in many schools. PTU president Fung Wai-wah said forcing the subject through would create the impression of an autocratic government.
He added that even if the subject had to be introduced in the end, it should be renamed civic education.
Meanwhile, an online group formed by parents looking to slow the subject's introduction has grown to 5,000 members.
The group of parents is reportedly raising money to fund advertisements urging the government to rethink the policy. The advertisements are expected to run in at least three newspapers on Monday.