A minister has revealed 51 civil servants were fired for serious misconduct in the past year, accounting for about a third of all sackings in the government’s workforce since 2017-18. Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen told a Legislative Council meeting on Thursday that another 70 were ordered to leave the service in 2021 for failing to meet the new requirement of signing a declaration to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to Hong Kong. “I hope no one will assume that civil service jobs are ‘iron rice bowls’, where people will not be fired no matter the kinds of serious mistakes they have made,” Nip said, referring to a Chinese phrase used to describe a job with guaranteed job security and income. Vacancies in Hong Kong civil service ‘could be filled by external recruitment’ He was responding to legislators’ criticisms about the performances of government workers during a motion debate over reforming the civil service system. Nip said the government attached great importance to the integrity and conduct of the city’s 180,000 civil servants. He cited figures between 2017-18 and 2021-22 showing that 1,124 employees were subject to various disciplinary actions due to serious misconduct or conviction of crimes. “Of them, 155 were dismissed,” he said. “In the 2021-22 financial year alone, there were 51 cases of civil servants getting dismissed. It is about one-third of the aforementioned number.” Nip did not elaborate on the nature of the misconduct that had led to the firing. He also said that the government could also apply Section 12 of the Public Service (Administration) Order to deal with underperforming employees, or those in whom the management had lost confidence. Called “retirement in public interest”, the section says the chief executive can order an officer to retire from the service if it is deemed desirable in public interest. “There were 70 such cases in 2021. All related to a refusal to sign the declaration,” Nip said, adding clearer guidelines would be issued to departments so that they could apply the rule more proactively in the future if needed. His remarks came as lawmakers passed a motion calling on the government to reform the civil service system to boost effectiveness. He agreed that the management of civil servants should keep up with the times. Is it time to revamp how pay rises for Hong Kong’s civil servants are determined? Many of the 39 legislators who had spoken on the motion expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the civil servants during the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmaker Connie Lam So-wai, of the New Territories South East constituency, said: “Many civil servants were allowed to work from home when the public were in need of service and information. The government epidemic hotline was always engaged. Public service was suspended. “And while many residents were struggling to make ends meet under the Covid-19 slump, civil servants are set to get a generous pay rise.” Lam said it showed the mechanism was “ridiculous” and needed to be revamped. Civil servants are set to get a pay rise of up to 7.26 per cent this year, following findings of a survey released last month on pay trends in the private market. It immediately proved controversial, given how the Hong Kong economy had been hit hard by Covid-19. The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce called the proposed pay rise – subject to final approval by the Executive Council - “out of touch with reality”.