Category Archives: HK government

Strip searches and the boys in blue

What are these accusations of improper and demeaning strip searches all about?

It seems the police and officers from the Correctional Services and the Immi-gration Department are spending a lot of time strip searching (including removal of underwear) those in their custody: so much time, in fact, people are beginning to complain.

Yu Mun-wah, the Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police, is probably puzzled by it all. He says strip searches are usually performed only in suspicious cases involving possession of drugs, and a metal detector is used to search for con-cealed weapons.

So, why are these officers strip searching asylum seekers, domestic workers, social activists, and sex workers? A Sri Lankan asylum seeker claims he was strip searched sixty times in two months! Perhaps the officers involved thought he was a Colombian drug lord?

I think, however, there’s nothing sinister behind it; I think it’s something quite innocent.

In my view, the officers were probably just bored and wanted to inject a bit of gaiety into their dull routine. You know, just having a bit of fun, a bit of a laugh; nothing more. I certainly wouldn’t suggest they were strip searching people for sexual gratification – that would be an extremely serious allegation to make.

No, I think it’s just a case of “boys will be boys”. Sometimes, you give a man a blue uniform and it goes straight to his head.

Anyhow, seven asylum seekers have complained to the Ombudsman about the treatment they received, so the boys in blue will have to find some other way to get their jollies, won’t they?

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Time to lance this boil?

Since I posted What sets off your “spider sense”? (6-Aug), the ongoing contro-versy surrounding Hong Kong’s former housing director, Leung Chi-man, and his lucrative new job with property giant New World Development is – like a boil on the backside – growing bigger and more painful each day.

Our beloved Chief Executive has requested a report from the Secretary for the Civil Service, Denise Yue Chung-yee, to clarify why she ratified the decision by the impressive-sounding Advisory Committee on Post-service Employment of Civil Servants (ACPECS) to allow Mr. Leung to take up his new job.

As I write this post, the report has not yet been produced, and the delay is making matters worse.

A whole raft of (current and former) politicians, civil servants, and political analysts and pundits is asking questions out loud and – by doing so – raising suspicions in the public mind of incompetence, jobbery or some other skull-duggery within the civil service.

I presume, before allowing Mr. Leung to join his new employer, ACPECS examined his application against the list of ‘approved criteria’ laid down by the government.

The list includes the following two criteria:

  • Whether the officer’s taking up of the proposed work would give rise to public suspicion of a conflict of interest or other impropriety
  • Whether any aspects of the proposed work would embarrass the government or bring disgrace to the civil service

It makes me wonder if these two criteria were even considered.

And there’s something else puzzling me: Why didn’t Justice Pang Kin-kee, the ACPECS chairman – and a lifelong friend of Mr. Leung – recuse himself from this case?

In my view, this boil needs to be lanced without further delay.

The searching spotlight of public scrutiny

I have an embarrassing confession to make: many years ago, I worked as a local government officer in the UK.

Terrible, I know. My only defence is that I was young and inexperienced – I didn’t know what I was doing. But when I realised how it was destroying my creativity, humanity and reputation, I immediately gave notice and left. Ever since, m’lud, I’ve tried to be an honest and useful member of the community.

However, during that shameful period, I gained some profound insights into how the civil service works – or rather, how it doesn’t work. And at that time, I believed the tendency for pompous, arrogant, indecisive, lazy and self-serving individuals to rise to the top of the service was a uniquely British phenomenom.

So, it wasn’t with just a little schadenfreude that I followed the public furore over our beloved Chief Executive’s recent political appointments: a debacle resulting in his rather humiliating climbdown from his paternalistic and patron-ising position at the top of his ivory tower.

I’m also enjoying how the public’s attention has since been turned – courtesy of the South China Morning Post – onto the refusal by most (not all) NGOs to make public the salaries of their CEOs and other senior managers. I remember well how much senior managers hated the searching spotlight of public scrutiny, and I remember watching them squirm while they tried to defend the indefens-ible. The same is happening today, in Hong Kong. Delicious. 

For what its worth, here’s my view:

Government money is public money, and before any company or organisation receives government funding, it should agree to make public the salaries and other benefits given to its senior managers – this includes CEOs and directors.

If any company or organisation refused to accept this condition, it should not receive government funding.

After all, the public has the right to know how its money is being spent. If it’s being used to benefit society in general, that’s good; but the government must ensure public money is not wasted, or used to create a privileged tier of overpaid fat cats. Our beloved Chief Executive (if his business friends and supporters allow it) should promote and encourage transparency and accountability.

What do you think?

Hong Kong ranks fifth worst in the world

Call me a cynic, I don’t care, but as soon as I hear anyone claim that market forces, when left alone, will alleviate poverty and oppression, I begin to suspect their motives.

I become suspicious because ‘the market’ is an abstract entity with no feelings or conscience. The market doesn’t care if the workforce is old, young, sick or healthy; it doesn’t worry about low wages; it doesn’t even care if wages are paid or not; and, it certainly doesn’t care about working conditions.

It’s all about productivity and profit: keep costs low, and output and profit high.

But, there’s a difference between ‘laissez-faire’ and ‘do-not-care’. The market’s lack of humanity is recognised the world over, and in all civilised countries, to varying degrees, markets are regulated in an attempt to prevent abuse, corruption and inhumanity; if you like, it’s the ‘humanisation’ of the abstract concept. And humanising laws and regulations are introduced by enlightened and caring governments – not by ‘the market’.

So, it was sad to read in today’s newspaper that Hong Kong, as regards weekly working hours, ranks as the fifth worst in the world, just above Peru, South Korea, Thailand and Pakistan. According to the article, 40.9% of workers in Hong Kong work more than 48 hours per week.

I’m also disappointed the government still seems to be influenced by the 2006 Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce view that introducing a minimum wage and regulating working hours would affect Hong Kong’s position as “the most international business and financial centre in the Asian half of the world”.

However, I can see the beginnings of a movement for change: this week, I also read the employer members of the Labour Advisory Board – following a trip to Britain last month – are now “more ready to accept a universal minimum wage law”. Provided it’s not set too high, I presume.

Better late than never!  🙂

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday, I felt pessimistic (see A lack of commitment?). Today, I’m in shock.

Overnight, Hong Kong has changed: it’s now a city with a law against racial discrimination – a law that even binds its own government!

Yesterday, the Legislative Council passed the new law and – in the process – sensationally stripped out the controversial clause exempting the government from being sued if any of their policies or functions was found to be discriminatory.

This morning, many government ministers and their supporters can be heard whinging after their unsuccessful battle to keep the clause in. Protests, dissent, dark words and mutterings of betrayal fill the air, and implied threats of non-compliance based on “impracticalities” have been reported.

I say give the defeated time to sulk and lick their wounds; they’ll come round. They have no choice. This law cannot be undone and they know that. They may even learn something from the unpleasant experience.

Being politicians, they won’t want to be seen as bad losers – that won’t win votes.

Yes, give the poor lambs some time.

A lack of commitment?

Racism is a problem all over the world.

And, in many so-called ‘civilised’ nations, ethnic Chinese people are often on the receiving end; but, ironically, some Chinese can also dish it out.

In Hong Kong, where white skin is prized, manual and domestic workers from Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines are poorly paid, forced to work long hours, often treated badly, and sometimes abused. Some Hong Kong Chinese even look down on their compatriots from across the border in mainland China!

Of course, most Hong Kong Chinese vehemently deny this charge, but you only have to travel on a Hong Kong bus or the MTR to witness their attitude towards foreigners. Even during the rush hour, visitors from Africa or India (especially those with very dark skin) usually sit alone. Only the most enlightened will sit next to them; the others prefer to stand.

You would naturally think, therefore, the government introducing a Race Discrimination Bill to combat racism is a good thing – a bit overdue, maybe, but definitely a good thing. And I would agree with you.

But, sadly, the government has taken the sparkle off this legislative gem by exempting themselves from litigation if any of its policies or functions is found to be discriminatory. Yes, the Hong Kong government wants to ensure it cannot be sued for breaking its own law!

What message does that send?

(Now go forward to – What a difference a day makes!)

Personal liability – an uncomfortable feeling

Without exception, all Hong Kong governments (both pre and post 1997) have tried to maintain an economic environment encouraging, supporting and nuturing corporate business: because, without it, Hong Kong would be a city of no great consequence.

Unfortunately, corporate influence in Hong Kong is now so great many people wonder who wields more power: the government or big business. Some cynics (why are you looking at me?) even suspect many government decisions are influenced by hidden corporate forces, and argue many laws are biased towards big business, and against the employee.

To be fair though, as far as I know, the majority of businesses in Hong Kong are professional, well-managed and responsible. However, some aren’t.

Some companies, it seems, flout labour laws with impunity: wages and other benefits aren’t paid, or are paid late, and subsequent Labour Tribunal rulings are ignored. Until now, the government has done little to address this scandal.

So, it comes as a pleasant surprise to learn the government is now proposing to make wilful non-compliance with a Labour Tribunal ruling a criminal offence, and to hold the company directors criminally liable (I hope penalties will include disqualification and a large fine and jail time). At this moment, I imagine some company directors are feeling a tad uncomfortable.

But, let’s not get carried away – there’s a long way to go before this proposal becomes law. If the cynics are right, this proposal may not even make it into the statute books.

Watch this space …