KEY government officials are not assured of remaining in the top echelons of the Special Administrative Region administration (SAR), according to a statement issued by the Preliminary Working Committee's (PWC) political sub-group. Furthermore, any Hong Kong Chinese who had secured a right of abode in Britain would be banned from taking up positions as principal officials after the changeover. The mainland co-convenor of the political sub-group, Professor Xiao Weiyun, said key officials could be asked to indicate whether they were holding foreign passports. In a 13-point statement to address Hong Kong civil servants' worries about their future, the PWC political sub-group stressed that all civil servants, including police, would be allowed to stay in the service after 1997. The statement was meant to assure civil servants that their employment terms and conditions, promotion system and retirement benefits had all been guaranteed by the Basic Law. However, the job prospects of incumbent senior officials would hinge on the chief executive-designate. On whether the senior officers would retain their present posts, the statement offered no firm commitment. It said only that, generally speaking, civil servants could stay in their original postings, but principal officials had to be nominated by the chief executive. Their appointments would then have to be confirmed by the central Government. They would be appointed and promoted in accordance with their qualifications, experience and ability as stipulated in Article 103 of the Basic Law, the statement said. An assistant director of the official Xinhua (New China News Agency), Lee Wui-ting, rejected any British participation in the lining up of key persons in the SAR government. ''The British side can't interfere in a matter [which is entirely] under Chinese sovereignty,'' he said in Beijing. Yesterday's statement was criticised by liberals in Hong Kong, who said the claims would only put extra pressure on civil servants during the transitional period. A United Democrats spokesman, Cheung Man-kwong, said the standing of civil servants during the transition phase was covered in the Basic Law. ''The PWC asking civil servants to state explicitly whether they want to stay after the sovereignty change is another form of political vetting,'' he said. However, Hong Kong co-convenor, Leung Chun-ying, said the suggestion that the entire civil service indicate whether it intended to stay beyond 1997 carried no political overtones. It was only a simple procedure to let the future SAR government know who would be available, he said. The PWC statement also made it clear that the working panel was against the British scheme regarding right of abode, which it said was in violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. As only people who had resided in Hong Kong for 15 years were eligible to become key officials by 1997, Professor Xiao said the sub-group would try to work out how the residency rule would be implemented. Mr Lee said Hong Kong Chinese holding British right of abode could continue to serve as principal officials as soon as they gave up their British nationality. The PWC statement also assured that there would be no reprisals against civil servants after 1997 as it was accepted they were only carrying out their duties in accordance with Hong Kong laws. The future SAR government would, as a whole, be responsible to the central Government through the chief executive and there was no question of reporting to individual departments under the Chinese Government. The statement also said it was not necessary that officials speak Mandarin and write in Chinese, but noted that such qualifications would help the officials communicate with various departments in the mainland.