Newly-joined Hong Kong civil servants could be sacked for behaviour deemed to “detract from the image” of the administration, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday following earlier warnings that joining anti-government protests may be grounds for their dismissal.

Lam’s comments to reporters were in response to a question about new guidelines issued last Friday by the Civil Service Bureau, which oversees the service.

Carrie Lam press journalist
Carrie Lam at a press conference on August 18, 2020. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

These state that civil servants who are serving an initial probationary period may be dismissed after being arrested for taking part in illegal anti-government assemblies, regardless of whether they are subsequently charged.

Since 2010, new recruits to the Hong Kong civil service serve a probationary term of three years before being considered for a permanent position.

When asked whether the new guideline constitutes a presumption of guilt, the chief executive said the provision was “a matter of employer-employee relations.”

“Probation… means a period [to] observe the performance of an employee on various aspects to see whether it’s in line with the expectations of the employer,” she said.

“As the SAR government, we are an employer so we have certain expectations of our staff… how they perform and how they conduct themselves; what views they express. If that’s going to detract from the image of the SAR government, of course we have every reason not to keep that person in employment,” she added.

National security
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Civil servants were among thousands of people arrested last year when anti-government protests gripped the city.

Lam referred to requirements for civil servants under the new Beijing-imposed national security law as evidence that they are held to “a more stringent set of standards” than the general public.

“Civil servants perform public duties so we have high requirements… apart from the work performance of civil servants and their professional expertise, we also have expectations of their conduct.”

She added that the head of the civil service bureau should “make sure that they are monitoring and observing not only the performance of the probationers on the job but also their conduct, their other behaviours to make sure that they will be good enough to continue to serve the people of Hong Kong, being an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.”

Under Article 6 of the national security law, people who assume public office must either confirm in writing or pledge an oath to uphold the Basic Law, the mini-constitution for Hong Kong. They must also swear an oath of allegiance to both the Hong Kong and central governments.

According to a HK01 report, the illegal activities concerned are specified as “unlawful public activities targeted at a specific or general policies and /or decisions of the Government which calls into question their suitability for holding the office continuously and further appointment.”

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.