PROFICIENCY in Chinese will not be a condition for expatriate civil servants to switch to local terms, it emerged yesterday, sparking criticism from legislators and unions. They said that without such a requirement, the Government's sincerity in localising the service was in question. After months of consultation, the Civil Service Branch (CSB) has compiled a circular covering detailed arrangements for implementation of the open competition plan from January. The circular is to be distributed to departments next Monday. The plan - announced by the Secretary for Civil Service Michael Sze Cho-cheung in October - to open about 600 senior contract posts for competition is part of a long-term arrangement for expatriate officers who wish to continue in the service on local terms. Legislators said that to ensure fair competition, the level of Chinese language required from applicants should be detailed in advance. But the circular, which lists criteria for staff - both local and overseas - eligible to join the scheme, does not lay down such specifications. It said the operational requirements of all positions concerned would be taken into account. 'For instance, if a substantial portion of officers in the rank are required to communicate directly with people in Chinese, a candidate's ability to perform effectively and efficiently without an interpreter would be a consideration,' the circular said. In view of the growing need to speak colloquial Chinese in many departments, overseas officers who transferred to local terms would be required to undergo Chinese language training, subject to the availability of resources, it said. Legislator Cheung Man-kwong suggested the lack of requirement was intended by the Government to make it easier for expatriates to remain in the civil service. 'The criteria are not clear and definite enough,' he said. 'The CSB must be able to sort out the Chinese language standard required for officers holding different posts. 'The standard can range from high to middle and low level . . . The aim is to realise localisation of the service,' he said. The vice-president of the Senior Non-Expatriate Officers' Association, Au Chi-keung, said the Government had not taken its opinions seriously. 'It is unfair [to the locals] as it is the obvious intention of the Government to lower the demand for Chinese language and allow more room for it to manipulate the competition. 'The aim to choose the best candidate for the posts will not be fulfilled,' he said. Mr Cheung said legislators would go on pressing the Government to follow their demands by revising the requirement, or perhaps introducing a private member's bill to affect the decision. Other criteria includes that applicants apply 12 months before their contracts expire and get endorsement from the departments they are serving. The plan applies to officers whose agreements expire on or after September 1, next year, and who are willing to extend their contracts on local conditions of service.