Civil servant’s walkout over motion condemning Hong Kong police chief at district council meeting prompts official complaint from pro-democracy group
- Politicians contact Ombudsman after district officer Susanne Wong quit meeting in protest
- Earlier civil servant’s boss said she did nothing wrong in leaving alongside Commissioner of Police Chris Tang
A group of pro-democracy politicians filed an official complaint on Friday against a district officer who walked out when councillors were handling a motion condemning the city’s police chief, accusing her of violating the political neutrality of the civil service.
The move, which signals a widening rift between the administration and the opposition, was prompted by the actions of Susanne Wong Ho Wing-sze, the district officer of the Central and Western district, who walked out of Thursday’s meeting alongside the Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung.
During a discussion on police conduct during anti-government protests, Tang was grilled by predominantly pro-democracy council members. The police chief left alongside other officials after council chairwoman Cheng Lai-king began reading out an impromptu motion that accused Tang of condoning what she claimed was “police violence”.
But Wong’s actions were defended by her boss, the Secretary for Civil Service Joshua Law Chi-kong, who said he believed she had not done anything wrong.
Wong, who was leading more than 10 officials from eight other government departments, walked out and said the government did not agree with the motion – which was later passed – because it was not based on facts.
The officials had been due to address the council members on the remaining items of the agenda, which covered issues including land uses, epidemic prevention, and public market management.
In a joint statement, 14 pro-democracy district councillors said the walkout had been unacceptable.
“The police issue has nothing to do with other matters [on the agenda]. The departure of the government officials is putting politics before the livelihood of the people, and violating the principle of political neutrality of civil servants,” they wrote.
They filed a complaint with the government’s watchdog, the Ombudsman, on Friday afternoon.
Earlier, Law suggested the walkout was justified during a Legislative Council meeting on the government’s funding request for a pay rise for civil servants.
“The [Civil Service] code requires civil servants to carry out their duties based on the policies and decisions of the current term of the government,” he said. “Judging from what happened, I don’t think she violated the code.”
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan was not convinced. She asked if officials would just walk out of any meeting from now on if they disliked the issue being discussed.
“What’s the point of having a meeting then? Is the opposition camp allowed to exist? Is expressing dissenting views not allowed? Are councillors not allowed to say something officials don’t like to hear?” Chan said.
It was not the first time government officials have walked out of a district council meeting since November’s elections, which saw the pro-democracy camp take control of 17 of the city’s 18 councils.
Tai Po’s district officer Eunice Chan Hau-man left a meeting on Wednesday as councillors were about to elect a chairman for a newly created security and constitutional affairs committee.
The Home Affairs Department later said the terms of reference for the committee may not be compatible with the District Councils Ordinance, which governs the councils’ responsibilities.