Carrie Lam

After 18 years Hong Kong customs to be helmed by insider instead of career bureaucrat

Deputy commissioner Hermes Tang Yi-hoi to succeed administrative officer Roy Tang Yun-kwong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 5:05pm

In a break with convention, Hong Kong customs officials will be led by one of their own instead of seeing a career bureaucrat being parachuted in for the top job, as has been the government’s practice for the past 18 years.

Based on the nomination and recommendation of Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the central government has approved the appointment of current Customs and Excise Department deputy commissioner Hermes Tang Yi-hoi, 53, as the new chief. His boss, Roy Tang Yun-kwong, who is an administrative officer (AO), will move back to the bureaucracy.

Work unions welcomed the appointment, having fought for an internal promotion to the top job for years. Association of Customs and Excise Service Officers chairwoman Bonnie Lo Hoi-sze spoke highly of her new boss, describing Hermes Tang as the right candidate given his all-round experience.

“Tang had served in different positions including some frontline postings and in investigations. He understands the problems in customs,” Lo said. “He is also open to his fellows’ views. I am sure he will bring the department to another level.”

Hermes Tang joined the immigration department in 1985, then moved to customs as a probationary inspector in 1987, eventually working his way up to deputy commissioner in 2016.

He was awarded the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Medal for Meritorious Service in 2014 for his exemplary and devoted service. He watched over the boundary and ports when he was an assistant commissioner. He also served in the air passenger division of airport command.

Tang is expected to lead the department until 2021.

Over the past decade, the government faced backlash from customs officers and work unions for parachuting in AOs to fill the department’s top post instead of promoting a senior officer from within its ranks.

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When customs chief Lee Shu-fai retired in 1999 after 35 years of service, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa appointed John Tsang Chun-wah, who was director-general of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London at the time, to lead the agency.

Tsang’s five successors were also from the administrative office. They were: Raymond Wong Hung-chiu (2001–2003), Timothy Tong Hin-ming (2003–2007), Richard Yuen Ming-fai (2007–2011), Clement Cheung Wan-ching (2011–2015) and Roy Tang (2015–2017).

Staff morale was affected, with work unions claiming that the career bureaucrats, who had no experience in the customs department, were using the position merely as a stepping stone.

“We feel bad as our colleagues are capable of heading the agency,” Lo said.

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The Civil Service Bureau said in 2014 that the appointment of a department head was made on the principle of finding the most suitable candidate for the job. “The criteria to be considered for promotion include job requirements, overall operational needs, as well as the experience and personal attribute of the candidates.”

It also said the consideration for seconding a suitable officer from another grade would be given only if there was no suitable departmental candidate.

Roy Tang said earlier this year that it was his responsibility to train his staff to take on the top job.