Patten to face civil servants' fury at airport

GOVERNOR Chris Patten will return from a month's holiday in Italy today to be greeted at Kai Tak airport by a crowd of protesting civil servants.

He will begin one of his busiest months since arriving in Hong Kong in July last year, almost before he has recovered from his rest with family and friends in Umbria.

About 100 senior civil servants will line up outside the airport this afternoon with banners to protest against the Government's policy of allowing expatriates to switch to local contract terms.

The policy was announced at the end of last month when the Governor left Hong Kong for his holiday in London and Italy, and will have to be resolved as soon as possible.

The vice-president of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, Wong Kong-sang, said they hoped they could approach the Governor to present him with a petition this afternoon.

Mr Wong said the Governor would not be surprised to see them at the airport since they had already informed the Civil Service Branch and applied to the police more than a week ago for a licence to hold a demonstration.

''The Governor should be well-briefed of our action and this protest should be one attended by the most senior officers ever,'' Mr Wong said.

In their letter they will urge Mr Patten to stop the policy, which has caused an uproar among local civil servants since its introduction a month ago.

They will also urge the Government to implement the localisation policy whole-heartedly and to introduce a common set of terms of employment as soon as possible.

Their letter will also reiterate their regret about the Government introducing the policy without consulting staff.

They said it had seriously damaged their morale and undermined the stability of the civil service.

Besides the recent dispute between local and expatriate civil servants on the localisation policy, Mr Patten will also have to finalise his second policy address which will be delivered to legislators on October 6.

The 10th round of talks between British and Chinese teams on the future political development of Hong Kong is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, while at least one other round is expected to take place before the end of September.

China has remained tough towards new proposals forwarded by the British side, which were described as disguised versions of Mr Patten's original plan.

It is known that Britain tabled for discussion a modified plan in the last round of talks, which would see the functional constituency electorate cut from 2.7 million people to about one million.

Britain will also look for a breakthrough during the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries, Douglas Hurd and Qian Qichen, in New York on September 23.

Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement before October 6, Mr Patten will be left with the task of reporting the progress of the talks in his second policy address.

Mr Patten is also expected to announce soon the new chief secretary. Sir David Ford is due to leave the post by the end of the year.

The Secretary for Civil Service, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, is widely tipped to succeed him as the first Chinese Chief Secretary.

Mrs Chan is on holiday and will be back in mid-September.