The Hong Kong government has proposed raising the salaries of bureaus heads by 12.4 per cent starting July 1 next year – the first adjustment since the Political Appointment System was introduced 14 years ago.

The adjustment, based on the cumulative change in the Consumer Price Index over the last four years, was proposed by an independent commission. It said that the remuneration of top officials had fallen “significantly” behind increases in private sector pay.

(left to right) Rimsky Yuen, Carrie Lam, and Raymond Tam. File Photo: Gov HK.
(L to R) Politically appointed officials Rimsky Yuen, Carrie Lam, and Raymond Tam. File Photo: Gov HK.

The commission said that the remuneration package of politically appointed officials should be pitched at an “attractive level” in order to recruit and retain high-calibre talent, while recognising that salary should not be the primary incentive as public office appointments “come with great honour.”

The salary of deputy directors of bureaus will be kept at 65 per cent to 75 per cent of that of their bosses.

The government announced Monday that it had accepted the commission’s recommendations. The rest of the remuneration package, such as 22 days of annual leave, would remain unchanged.

The government will brief the Legislative Council’s Panel on Constitutional Affairs at its meeting next Monday. It will then seek funding approval from the legislature’s Finance Committee.

Adjustment mechanism

There is currently no annual adjustment mechanism for politically appointed officials. The commission suggested that the government adopt the mechanism for lawmakers, whose salary is adjusted annually in line with the movement of the Consumer Price Index.

legco chamber
Hong Kong’s legislature. File Photo: HKFP.

The Consumer Price Index is an economic indicator that measures the changes over time in the price level of consumer goods and services generally purchased by households in the relatively high expenditure range.

In 2009, the then-chief executive Donald Tsang and his cabinet voluntarily reduced their salary by around five per cent in light of the economic slowdown at the time.

In 2015, incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying restored the pay to the level set in 2002, so that his salary was raised by HK$20,000 to HK$371,000 a month. The chief executive’s monthly salary will become HK$417,000 if the legislature approves the proposal.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam’s monthly salary – HK$330,000 – is the highest among the senior officials. Finance Secretary John Tsang makes HK$319,000 a month, while Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen receives HK$308,000 every month.

In comparison, outgoing US President Barack Obama receives a monthly salary of approximately HK$260,000 whilst Chinese President Xi Jinping makes HK$14,000. Among country leaders this is exceeded only by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is paid more than HK$1.9 million a month.

Correction 8:45pm: A previous headline suggested that the incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would benefit from the pay rise. Leung will have left office by the time the rise would come into effect.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.