The Equal Opportunities Commission has denied any “nepotism” or “black box operation” over the hiring of a project manager close to the watchdog’s chief, after lawmakers have passed a non-binding motion to review its governance.

At the Legislative Council Panel on Constitutional Affairs on Wednesday, pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok questioned whether former assistant director of health John Leung Chi-fai was qualified to take up the position of chief project manager. Kwok claimed Leung had “no experience whatsoever” in anti-discrimination and human rights law.

Alfred Chan Cheung-ming. Photo: In-Media.

People Power’s Ray Chan also cited rumours regarding internal power struggles within the EOC and how a complaints director had resigned over the move.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting asked Chan: “Was he hired because he’s a friend of yours who would obey you or is easy to manage?” He further questioned why the EOC was spending HK$120,000 a month on hiring such a person.

Chan said that Leung had experience handling complaints in the Department of Health, and that – because he knew Leung – he did not take part in the selection process, Apple Daily reported.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung – who voiced concerns over the EOC’s “chaotic administration” – raised a non-binding motion asking that the government set up an independent inquiry to review the watchdog’s governance. It was passed in a eight-against-seven vote, with pro-establishment lawmaker Holden Chow abstaining owing to his position as a member of the commission’s committee.

‘No black box’ operation

In a statement on Wednesday, the EOC said that it is currently conducting a process review of its complaint-handling and legal assistance functions, and that it has followed established procedures and instructions from the EOC Board in doing so. “There is no issue of chaotic administration in the process,” it said.

Regarding the chief project manager position, the watchdog said that it conducted an open recruitment exercise last September and posted advertisements in local daily papers.

The Equal Opportunities Commission. Photo: eoc.org.hk.

“The EOC Chairperson did not participate in the shortlisting stage. Upon learning that the candidates shortlisted included someone he knows, the EOC Chairperson immediately declared his interest with the Recruitment Panel. The Panel decided after discussion that the EOC Chairperson could participate in the interview with the candidates,” the statement said.

“As such, there is no question of the EOC committing nepotism or conducting a ‘black-box operation’ in the recruitment process.”

The watchdog said it will continue to strive to enhance its service quality and effectiveness, liaise with different parties, and deliver its duties “in an even more effective and efficient manner.”

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.