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Nine green groups in Hong Kong are urging the government to withdraw its Lantau Tomorrow Vision project. Photo: Felix Wong

Hong Kong officials withdraw funding requests for 14 top government jobs, saving HK$29 million a year

  • Positions with responsibility for railway safety, waste reduction and recycling initiatives, and boosting land supply among the jobs withdrawn
  • Environmental activists accuse government of withdrawing funding requests from Legco committee so massive Lantau project can move up agenda

Fourteen proposed directorate-level jobs costing HK$29 million a year in wages have been dropped for now after the Hong Kong government withdrew the funding requests from the legislature to save public coffers, official records show.

Positions with responsibility for railway safety, waste reduction and recycling initiatives, and boosting land supply were among the jobs withdrawn from the agenda ahead of the Legislative Council Finance Committee’s meeting on Friday.

The withdrawals mean the next item on the committee’s agenda is a HK$550 million funding request for a preliminary study into the Lantau Tomorrow Vision. This is a 1,700-hectare project to build a new metropolis on man-made islands in waters off Lantau Island which will cost about HK$624 billion.

Patrick Nip (centre) said the government had considered lawmakers’ views and the current economic situation. Photo: Felix Wong

Activists from nine environmental groups including Greenpeace and Green Power issued a petition letter on Thursday, accusing the government of withdrawing the funding requests for the jobs to pave the way for the Lantau project.

“The ecosystem in the area will be damaged,” said Kate Lin Pui-yi, Greenpeace Hong Kong’s senior campaigner.

“I’ve noticed that many pro-establishment lawmakers support the proposal. I am not optimistic that it will be rejected. But I hope the lawmakers will understand that this is not a political issue, this is an issue about Hong Kong’s future.”

Hong Kong policy address ‘wasn’t exactly a confidence booster’

But civil service minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen stressed at a briefing on Thursday that the funding requests were withdrawn after the government considered lawmakers’ views and the current economic situation.

“Lawmakers have had a lot of reservations about creating these posts, and some have opposed them,” he said.

The Legislative Council Finance Committee meets on Friday. Photo: Felix Wong

Some lawmakers had not been supportive of creating these senior government jobs while unemployment remained high in Hong Kong, he added.

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to batter the economy, the city’s jobless rate has remained at a 16-year high of 6.4 per cent.

Checks of Legco records found that, in last Friday’s finance meeting, the administration submitted requests to the legislature to create 14 directorate posts, costing up to HK$29 million in wages a year.

They included 10 D1 jobs with a monthly pay of HK$144,100 to HK$157,700; three D2 jobs with a monthly wage of HK$171,200 to HK$187,150; and one D3 job with a monthly salary of HK$171,200 to HK$187,150. Wages for directorate posts are on a scale of one to eight, with a D8 job paying about HK$300,000 a month.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department had wanted to create a D1 post of chief electrical and mechanical engineer and another D1 post of chief electronics engineer.

‘Return of peace’ to Legco restores Lam’s faith in Hong Kong political system

The administration had previously told lawmakers that these jobs were needed to help “address the public expectation on railway safety, the expanding railway network, ageing legacy infrastructure and an increasing number of passengers which leads to a heavily loaded railway system”.

The Environmental Protection Department had wanted to create nine directorate posts.

“To prepare for municipal solid waste charging and take forward various waste reduction and recycling initiatives, we have to create nine directorate posts to provide the necessary support,” it said in a document submitted to the legislature earlier.

In a reply to the Post, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said it was reviewing the post requirements.

“The two existing chief engineers in [the department] are handling the additional regulatory works on top of their regular duties on a short-term basis,” it said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it was reviewing the staffing proposal of the nine directorate posts and assessing the implications, before considering its next steps.

“We are temporarily deploying existing manpower resources to undertake the relevant duties in the staffing proposal,” it said.

Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said the loss of these senior posts would hardly impact the government’s operation.

“Each of these directorate posts is just one of the members in a team. The team will still be there,” he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Funding requests for 14 top jobs withdrawn