Lawmakers not monitored but merely ‘observed’, Hong Kong No 2 official Matthew Cheung says amid phone-snatch row
Chief secretary defends move by government officer to ensure meeting quorum and argues that there was no breach of privacy
Civil servants did not monitor the movement of lawmakers in the Legislative Council complex and only “observed” them, Hong Kong’s No 2 official said on Saturday as he dismissed claims of a privacy breach amid the phone-snatching row sparked by an embattled lawmaker.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung’s remarks came as Ted Hui Chi-fung faced censure and criminal charges for grabbing a female government officer’s phone earlier this week and dashing into the men’s toilet.
The woman was trying to marshal lawmakers into a meeting to discuss a government bill, but Hui felt it was wrong and a breach of privacy for civil servants to monitor their whereabouts.
Cheung on Saturday again defended the action by the female officer, saying it was to ensure a quorum at the meeting.
“The government purely observed [lawmakers’ movements],” he said. “We did this [to ensure] the quorum in the meeting was met. We wanted the meeting to proceed smoothly if there was a vote.
“This [action] posed no problem at all. We did it in a low-profile manner and absolutely did not disrupt lawmakers or breach any privacy.”
Cheung said he had written to Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, expressing hope that civil servants would be fully protected when they carried out their duties in the building.
“They should be safe and free from disruptions,” Cheung added.
Despite Hui’s repeated apologies to the woman and to the public, the Democratic Party suspended his membership indefinitely, pending the outcome of an internal disciplinary hearing.
Pro-establishment party leaders joined forces on Friday in a bid to have him kicked out of Legco.
New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she had written to the body’s House Committee, asking for a debate on a motion to censure Hui.
If the committee, made up of lawmakers known to be Ip’s allies, agrees to the request at its weekly meeting next Friday, the motion would be tabled by the end of May. This would trigger an investigation, after which the motion would be put to a vote. If two-thirds of lawmakers support it, Hui would be booted out of Legco.
The Democratic Party said it would decide on its voting stance after the council’s internal inquiry. Other lawmakers either opposed the motion or questioned whether it should even be tabled before the completion of police investigations.
According to sources, police have asked for legal advice from the Department of Justice on possible follow-up actions against Hui, and are waiting for directions.