The government has been accused of interfering in legislative affairs by sending civil servants to monitor the movement of lawmakers inside the legislature during major votes or debates.

“For years, whenever the legislature debates or votes on major issues, the government will try to ensure the passage of its proposals by planting a large number of civil servants in every corridor and on every floor to keep track of the number of lawmakers on each floor,” seven Democratic Party lawmakers said in a joint statement on Monday.

legco session
A legislative session. File Photo: LegCo.

“These civil servants act like paparazzi for the government to monitor the movement of lawmakers. Their conduct causes a nuisance and constitutes an invasion of privacy of lawmakers.”

The lawmakers asked Kenneth Chen Wei-on, chief of the Legislative Council Secretariat, to disclose details of the government’s operation, such as the reasons for giving civil servants access to the Legislative Council Complex.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung alleged that the government is attempting to influence voting results. He demanded an explanation of how the authorities use and keep the data collected.

Freedom of movement

Andrew Shum Wai-nam of the Legislative Assistants Concern Group told HKFP that the government’s practice in question has been going on for a long time.

“Public officers are supposed to be subject to LegCo’s security measures if they are to access different parts of the legislative building – why is it that they enjoy even more freedom [of movement] than legislative aides?” Shum said.

Andrew Leung and Kenneth Chen Wei-on
Andrew Leung (left) and Kenneth Chen Wei-on (right). Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

“The Secretariat is effectively cooperating with the government in head-counting lawmakers by granting public officers the privilege of freely moving around inside the building.”

Paul Tang Kwok-wai, then-secretary for the civil service, said in 2013 that civil servants are sent to accompany government officials who attend legislative meetings. Their work includes canvassing lawmakers’ views and taking note of their voting preferences and attendance.

“Officers will be discreet and will fully comply with the rules of the LegCo Complex, so as to ensure that meetings and activities [inside the building] will not be affected,” Tang said.

He added that the government “fully respects” the Legislative Council’s duty of keeping it in check.

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