A former health secretary was yesterday named head of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Critics were quick to protest about Dr York Chow Yat-ngok's appointment, saying his long service in government made him an inappropriate choice for what should be an impartial role.
Chow said he took the helm of the EOC as "the safeguard of human rights" in Hong Kong.
But he shied away from saying whether he backed new legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
His reticence on the issue was a notable contrast to the stance of his predecessor Lam Woon-kwong, who had repeatedly advocated more legal protection for sexual minorities.
"An alternative sexual orientation is not an illness; nor is it, so to say, an abnormality," the new EOC chairperson said yesterday.
"But whether there should be legislation, and what should be the scope of legislation, it would not be that simple to [provide] a definition so quickly."
Chow, 66, a Christian, said he had friends of different sexual orientation. "I personally hold quite an open attitude in terms of sexual orientation," he said.
He expected "some progress" to be made towards eliminating such discrimination during his three-year tenure, and he hoped to safeguard human rights in the city, he said.
"We [in Hong Kong] have a future only if we can maintain a certain level of human rights and freedom," Chow said.
Law Yuk-kai, director of the Human Rights Monitor, said that during Chow's time as health secretary, he never demonstrated knowledge of or commitment to human rights issues.
He said he was concerned that the commission would come to be regarded as part of the bureaucracy and that it would become a retirees' club for former officials.
"We have one [Lam] leaving the commission to rejoin the government, and now another [Chow] is coming in," said Law.
"We feel helpless and disappointed … the appointees [may] be too close to the government and promoting human rights may not be his top priority."
John Tse Wing-ling, convenor of the EOC's policy and research committee, questioned whether Chow would be able to criticise the government when necessary.
"If he needs to slam the government - even the Hospital Authority - would he be able to do it?" he said.
But constitutional and mainland affairs minister Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the new chairperson was picked ahead of 120 others for his expertise in the medical field and rehabilitation work. "I think having been a senior government official is an asset rather than a liability," he said.
Chow's appointment will take effect from next month.