Lawmakers have publicly criticised the performance of some top-level government officials, with one official being accused of caring more about taking selfies at public events than promoting policies.

The government’s political appointment system was expanded in 2008 to create new positions directly under ministers, namely undersecretaries and political assistants. They are mostly tasked with providing political analysis and advice to principal officials, as well as conducting political liaison work, but critics say the duties of the highly-paid officials remain unclear.

A verbal legislative question was originally tabled by New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip, who could not attend the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday owing to illness.

Undersecretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Joseph Chan
Undersecretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Joseph Chan. File Photo: GovHK.

Her party colleague Eunice Yung replaced Ip and asked the government if there were regular comprehensive reviews of the officials’ work, and if the government provided professional training to the officials to enhance their lobbying skills, as well as their capability to liaise with the media and the public.

Yung said the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau had tabled 18 bills at the Legislative Council since October 2017, and the bureau’s undersecretary Joseph Chan and political assistant Pauline Yeung should have come to the legislature to persuade her to support the policies.

“But Mrs Ip and I have not received any calls or messages from the undersecretary and the political assistant, and they have not talked to us about the policies, lobbying or suggestions on public spending,” Yung said.

Chan receives a monthly salary of around HK$230,000, whilst Yeung receives a monthly salary of around HK$83,000.

Pauline Yeung
Political Assistant to the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Pauline Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak chose to criticise an undersecretary without naming them: “An undersecretary was very active in participating in industry events – up to four to five industry ceremonies in one night. But when the bureau needs to sell a new policy, if you ask the industry whether the undersecretary contacted them? Not at all.”

“His work was mainly going to different ceremonies, including inaugurations, commemorative ceremonies, to help people take photos, to take selfies. Are selfies actually one of the necessary skills to become undersecretaries and political assistants?” Mak asked.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam said he tried to call the secretary for development when he took office to discuss a controversy over land use in his constituency. Tam said Allen Fung, the political assistant for the bureau, refused to help him book an appointment with the secretary for months.

Allen Fung
Political Assistant to Secretary for Development Allen Fung. File Photo: GovHK.

“Even if I can’t get an appointment with the secretary or the undersecretary, at least get me one with the Planning Department. [The political assistant] dared to tell me, ‘you are not a stakeholder,’” Tam said.

“Is it the case that the political assistant has more power than the secretary, or that he can represent the secretary and refuse meetings with lawmakers, [and thus] damage the relationship between the executive branch and the legislature?” he asked.

Fung receives a monthly salary of around HK$116,000.

In replying to lawmakers, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said he would not comment on individual cases: “In terms of communication and maintaining relationships, in handling every single matter, we can always learn from experience to see how we can be better.”

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.