Top Hong Kong officials in line for 12.4pc pay rise

First increase since 2002 is necessary to attract top talent to join government, minister says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 1:07am

Hong Kong’s top officials can expect a 12.4 per cent pay rise in the next term, the first increase in 15 years, the government announced on Monday while warning that it was getting increasingly difficult to attract talent because of the city’s political atmosphere.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the proposed double-digit pay hike was “very moderate and reasonable”, and “only fair”, given that salaries for top officials had remained frozen since the political appointment system was introduced in 2002.

“It is increasingly difficult to get people to join the government and to become a principal official given the prevailing political circumstances,” he said.

Double pay rise and extra benefits to ease the strain on Hong Kong’s judges

The pay rise will factor in cumulative inflation since 2012, and a new mechanism will adjust ministers’ pay annually in line with the Consumer Price Index used for households in the relatively high expenditure range, similar to the existing system for the remuneration of Legislative Council members.

The independent commission tasked to come up with the pay recommendations also proposed a unified salary level for future appointments of ministers’ political assistants to reflect candidates’ backgrounds and job duties. The commission recommended that the cash remuneration for each political assistant be capped at 35 per cent of that for a minister, or not more than HK$104,340 a month, based on ministers’ current monthly pay of HK$298,115.

It will be up to ministers to decide the appropriate level.

The proposal will be tabled at Legco’s constitutional affairs panel for discussion next Monday, and the Finance Committee will be approached for approval next month.

Committee chairman Chan Kin-por said lawmakers would examine the proposal from various perspectives.

“The government has to explain the rationale to convince the lawmakers,” he said.

We cannot make a decision just on the grounds that the growth in their pay lags behind inflation
Wu Chi-wai, Democratic Party chief

But committee member Wu Chi-wai, the new chief of the Democratic Party, said a 12.4 per cent rise was unacceptable, given that many questioned the effectiveness of the political accountability system.

“Few ministers have been truly accountable to Hong Kong citizens,” he said.

“The popularity of several ministers remains unacceptably low. We cannot make a decision just on the grounds that the growth in their pay lags behind inflation.”

Pay levels for policy secretaries and directors of bureaus have remained unchanged since 2002, when the political appointment system was introduced.

The commission noted that there was currently no mechanism for annual pay adjustments and that ministers’ salaries had fallen below the level of public sector pay while remaining significantly lower than that of the private sector.

“Since [directors of bureaus] are responsible for the designated policy portfolios and accountable for the performance of the underpinning executive departments, as a matter of principle, their remuneration should not lag behind the senior civil servants that they are working with,” it said.

Currently, the highest-ranking minister, the chief secretary, earns HK$330,565 per month.

Pay levels have also remained frozen for two more layers of politically appointed officials – undersecretaries and political assistants – since that system was introduced in 2007 to support the ministers in carrying out their work.

Asked whether he was confident that the government would be able to secure approval for the new pay system from a divided Legco in a tense political atmosphere, Tam replied that he was looking forward to lawmakers’ endorsement.

“I hope that once this is endorsed, it will help attract various kinds of political talent to the government,” he said.