THE Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has been accused of discouraging staff wanting to run for public offices, threatening cuts to salary and benefits. Under a new policy, key administrative staff will have to resign if they take up public office through election to district boards, the two municipal councils or the Legislative Council. Some staff said the policy was too limiting and complained it was worse than that of the Polytechnic University, which grants exemptions to staff who can convince their superiors that their college work will not be affected by public duties. The new policy guidelines - endorsed by the university council standing committee on December 21 and taking effect immediately - state that staff would be supported in public service activities as long as their work was not compromised. But salary and fringe benefits will be paid on a pro-rata basis only if staff members spend no more than half of their time in the public service sphere. Subsequent savings in this area would be used to hire part-time staff. The university estimated that staff elected to public office could expect to lose about 10 per cent for district board work, 20 per cent for municipal council membership, and 40 per cent for Legco work. Those disagreeing with the salary and benefits deductions could talk to university heads who would be monitoring the situation. Those spending more than half their time on public office work would be asked to apply for leave without pay for up to three years. If leave was not granted they might be forced to resign. A former Central and Western District Board member, Lam Kin-lai, now the university's building services manager, said the policy had affected his plan to stand for public office in future. He said the measure provided staff with no real option for public service of this type. Another staff member said the policy was 'murdering democracy and political participation in the name of so-called public accountability'. Others called it embarrassing, pointing out that legislator Steven Poon Kwok-lim was involved in the policy's formulation as a university council member. Mr Poon chairs the institution's conditions of service committee. He defeated Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, assistant secretary in the university's School of Humanities and Social Science, in the September district board elections. Mr Cheung said the new policy also had affected his political plans and he claimed benefits should not be deducted. Dr Lo Shiu-hing, a lecturer in social sciences, said the university should have consulted staff on the policy. Mr Poon, who is not on the university payroll, said there was no conflict of interest in his case because as a council member, he had to ensure the best use of public money. 'And I would not know who will be my opponent if I join any election in future,' he said. Mr Poon's election to the district board is widely expected to pave the way for his election to Legco next year. He said the university committee had in fact rejected a suggestion by some council members that staff taking up public office should resign.