DISCRIMINATION has been the key word in the landmark legal battle over the localisation policy. Expatriates say the policy has put them on an unequal footing with their local counterparts over promotions and job security. The policy means overseas officers cannot transfer to permanent and pensionable terms and, if they want to be on local contracts, they are demoted and their promotion prospects greatly limited. Secretary for Civil Service Michael Sze Cho-cheung made clear in June last year that only two expatriate officers could be heads of departments and four could be deputy secretaries. Expatriates argue this is a gross violation of the Bill of Rights which provides that the rights of all Hong Kong permanent residents are to 'be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status'. Local civil servants see it differently. They have long regarded themselves as the victims, with poorer working conditions and fewer chances of promotion, and have been pressing the Government to redress the balance for years. It was the Basic Law which changed things. It laid down that, by 1997, all principal officials, including branch secretaries and the head of disciplinary forces, had to be Chinese nationals without foreign right of abode. The Government was forced to introduce plans to groom a large group of local officers eligible to take up principal posts. It was this change, which set out differences based on ethnic origin, which sharpened the conflict between Hong Kong Chinese and expatriate officers. Yesterday's ruling may be disappointing for some and welcomed by others, but it does not change the fact that a united civil service is crucial for a smooth transition. The Government should work out as quickly as possible a uniform set of conditions of service for the civil service so there will be no more distinctions between overseas and local members.