Hong Kong’s District Councillors have been compared to the city’s migrant domestic workers by a former government official, who said he often used the analogy to say that district-level administrators could be fired if they did not obey their employers’ orders.

Frank Chan election electoral overhaul
Frank Chan attends a briefing on the electoral overhaul on April 7, 2021. Photo: GovHK.

Former secretary for transport and housing Frank Chan’s comments on Commercial Radio on Sunday came in response to lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen’s criticism of a proposed requirement that District Councillors must obey government orders.

“Must councillors now to follow the government, doing the government’s work, as a semi-civil servant, or a public representative?” Tik asked.

In response, Chan said often used the analogy of migrant domestic workers to describe the new requirement for District Councillors.

“Hongkongers are very fortunate to have foreign domestic workers. In their contracts, there is a clear clause which states that if they do not obey their employers’ legal and reasonable requests, they could be fired,” Chan said. He is also the city’s representative to China’s legislature.

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen he meets the press on February 22, 2023 after the 2023 Budget address. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The government had faced “populist” opposition voice in the past, Chan added, such as those opposing the construction of facilities such as columbariums in their districts.

As such, there was a need to improve district-level administration to depoliticise and rid of the populist mentality to better serve residents, said Chan.

Proposed changes to District Councils

The government last week announced proposed changes to how the city’s District Councils are appointed, which would see the number of democratically elected seats reduced to around 20 per cent. Pending legislative approval, only 88 seats in the election scheduled for November will be directly elected by the public – down from 452 in 2019.

The remaining seats will be a combination of 179 appointments made by the chief executive, 27 ex-officio seats, and 176 members elected from within the District Fight Crime Committees, District Fire Safety Committees and Area Committees of each district.

The proposal also included conditions for District Councillors, such as requiring them to support government policy, and taking on tasks assigned by the administration.

Chief Executive John Lee last Tuesday said the overhaul was necessary to “plug all the loopholes in the system to prevent the District Councils from again becoming a platform for [advocating] black riots, Hong Kong independence and mutual destruction.”

However, the proposal has been met with criticism, including from veteran District Councillor Paul Zimmerman, who said the changes would “destroy the final bastion of democracy” in the city and result in “a loss for everyone.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.