THERE has been much publicity recently about the Government's policy of replacing ''overseas officers'' with ''local officers'', and the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants of Hongkong has consistently objected to the discriminatory basis of the policy. The present Chief Secretary, in responding on behalf of the Governor to our petition in 1988, said that to make merit, rather than ethnicity, the major consideration in renewal of contracts would have the effect of abandoning the localisation policy. True! Since 1988 the Basic Law has been promulgated. It expressly contemplates the continued employment of foreign nationals, except in certain high-ranking posts. We do not argue against this narrow exclusion. In 1986 Mr Lu Ping and Mr Ji Peng-fei of the Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office told our association that local and overseas civil servants would be treated without discrimination; that Hongkong should be administered by locals (including overseas officers who had become locals by having worked in Hongkong for many years); that China hoped that overseas officers would remain in service; and that the 1.6 per cent portion of the civil service held by overseas officers was not excessive (the portion is now 1.4 per cent). At a meeting with local NCNA officials last autumn, these assertions were re-confirmed. However, the logical end-result of the localisation policy will be that no overseas officers will remain employed by the Government. This would surely be at odds with the cosmopolitan nature of Hongkong, and would create unease among the small, but important, portion of our community that is not Chinese. The Bill of Rights Ordinance was enacted in 1991. This fundamental law of Hongkong expressly requires that all permanent residents of Hongkong should have equal access to public service, without distinction of any kind, including race, language, nationalor social origin and birth. The localisation policy is based on exactly these distinctions! We do not contest the Government's right to prefer its local citizens when recruiting for the civil service. This is only sensible. However, the present policy does not accommodate the fact that most overseas officers have worked for the Government for enough years for themselves to qualify as permanent residents under the Bill of Rights. In the next few weeks one of our members who has been in Hongkong for 32 years is being forced out of the civil service under this policy. How can this be right? Would this policy be tolerated for a moment in Canada or other countries to which our local citizens emigrate? Many overseas officers have married locally or raised their children here. Hongkong has become their home. What can justify having a policy which denies these long serving employees the right to remain in public service? The local civil service unions argue that if we want to be treated as locals, we should not expect to retain preferential benefits. We concede this argument. We have proposed to the Government that if a permanent resident of Hongkong is available to be hired on local terms of service to fill a post, then if the person in the post is himself a permanent resident he should be allowed to remain in the post on local terms of service. The local unions argue that the policy is necessary to groom successors to the senior posts reserved under the Basic Law. The fact is that very few agreement service officers are in line for these posts or interfere with the promotion path to these posts. THE local unions also argue that we have no right to the renewal of a contract on its expiry. Even if that were true (a decision of the House of Lords suggests that there is a right to expect a renewal of a civil service contract if performance is satisfactory and the job still needs doing), the Bill of Rights prohibits using the criteria that are now used to determine whether to renew a contract. The local unions further argue that overseas officers had the opportunity to transfer to permanent and pensionable terms of service, rendering them immune to the policy. This argument ignores the reality that most of these applications have been rejected over the years, on the same discriminatory grounds, and that no officer hired since 1985 is eligible to apply. It has also been suggested that local officers should be given precedence because they are bilingual. If the job requires it, we agree. We also agree that if other qualifications for the job are equal, preference should be given to a bilingual person. However, unreasonable language discrimination also contravenes the Bill of Rights. Four weeks ago we submitted a proposal to the Secretary for the Civil Service. In it we argued that: (a) The policy is morally wrong because it discriminates between employees on the basis of their social origin, the dominant effect of which is to distinguish between persons on the basis of race; (b) The policy is legally wrong because it conflicts with articles 1, 21(c) and 22 of the Hongkong Bill of Rights Ordinance; (c) The policy is politically wrong because it is in conflict with the agreement expressed in the Joint Declaration and now also expressed in the Basic Law, both of which expressly contemplate the continued employment of foreign nationals; (d) The policy is wrong because it creates unnecessary friction between employees of different races and is thus bad for public service morale and efficiency; (e) The policy is wrong because the Government unnecessarily loses the valuable experience of employees whose origin is elsewhere than Hongkong; and (f) The policy is wrong because Hongkong people moving to other countries suffer no such employment discrimination in those other countries. If a policy can be so fundamentally wrong for so many reasons, surely it should at least be re-assessed. In fact, the Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service announced two months ago that the Government was reviewing the definition of who should qualify as a local, but that the review would take several months. (We question why it should take several months when the Basic Law contains its own simple definition of seven years' residence.) In light of this review we have asked that the policy be immediately suspended until the review has been completed. No suspension has yet been announced. We will be meeting the Secretary for the Civil Service on Friday. If we cannot persuade the Government to abandon the policy, we will put our case to Legco and, if necessary, to the Court. With all of the problems facing Hongkong, the Government should not be expending any of its energy in defending such an inherently discriminatory policy. This illegal, disruptive policy should be set aside. The Government and civil servants could then focus their energies on the essential job of serving the public. Allan Roger is the immediate past President of the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants of Hongkong and current chairman of its localisation committee.