PLC Paper No. CB 464
Ref : CB2/PL/PS/1 (These minutes have been seen by the Administration and cleared with the Chairman)

LegCo Panel on Public Service

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 28 April 1997 at 10:30 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon IP Kwok-him(Chairman)
    Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Allen LEE Peng-fei, CBE, JP
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung

Members Absent :

    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP

Public officers attending :

For All Items
Secretary for the Civil Service
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)2

For Item III
Ms Anissa WONG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)3

For Item IV
Mr Raymond YOUNG
Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)1 (Acting)
Mr Thomas CHAN
Assistant Secretary (Civil Service)

Attendance by invitation :

For Item III(a)

Representatives from Senior Non-Expatriate Officers’ Association
Mr HUI Kwok-hung
Mr MA Siu-leung

Representatives from the Local Crown Counsel Association
¢Ûrs Spring Y C FUNG
Mr Arthur Y S LUK

Representatives from Association of Expatriate Civil Servants of Hong Kong
Mr Jamie SCOTT
Mr Barry BROWN
Mr Michael SCOTT
Mr Andrew CHEE

Representatives from Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association
Mr Peter H WONG
Mr KWAN Yiu-wing

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 23 December 1996

The minutes were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. The next meeting would be held on Monday, 26 May 1997 at 10:30 am to discuss the following items-

  1. Localization of the Police Force; and

  2. Follow up on appeal channel in the civil service after 1997.

3. As to (a) above, the Chairman advised that Hon James TO, Chairman of the Panel on Security, had suggested that the subject be discussed by the Panel on Public Service and that members of the Panel on Security be invited to join.

4. Mr Michael HO was concerned about the direct recruitment to the Chinese Language Officer I rank as reported in the press. Secretary for the Civil Service undertook to provide an information paper on the subject. Mr HO said that subject to the information given, he would decide whether to suggest the item to be included for discussion at the next meeting.


(Post- meeting note: The information paper was circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2461/96-97(01))

III. Chinese language requirement in the civil service and public funded organizations

Meeting with deputations

Senior Non-expatriate Officers’ Association (SNEOA)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1845/96-97(01)

5. In addition to the views set out in the paper, representatives of the SNEOA made the following points-

    - The requirement for civil servants to be proficient in Chinese had become essential from legal and practical perspectives. Apart from the Basic Law which stipulated that Chinese should be used as official language by the executive authorities, factors such as the change of sovereignty, the need to communicate with the public in Chinese, and the fact that the civil service comprising more than 99% Chinese officers had made the Chinese language requirement for appointment of civil servants essential and necessary;

    - For posts which required language proficiency, the requirement should be in both Chinese and English. The general standard should be set at a pass in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) for both languages. For officers who had not received a formal education in Chinese, a pass in the basic language proficiency test, to be drawn up by the Hong Kong Examinations Authority, with standard equivalent to Form V should be required in the long term;

    - Agreement officers who were usually recruited to meet short term needs should also meet the language requirement for appointment. However, individual departments and grades might, in consultation with Civil Service Branch, lay down different levels of proficiency in both languages to suit the actual situation and job requirements;

    - All serving agreement officers in the civil service who wished to transfer to the permanent and pensionable (P&P) establishment should satisfy, among others, a Chinese language requirement. The proficiency level should be pitched at a pass in the Chinese subject in the HKCEE. The so-called intermediate standard proficiency test laid down by the Civil Service Examination Unit with a standard equivalent to Form II was inadequate. The proficiency in Chinese language should include the ability to speak , read and write;

    - All serving agreement officers in the civil service who wished to renew their local agreements or transfer to locally modelled agreements should satisfy, among others, a Chinese language requirement to be decided by the heads of departments/grades, taking into account the requirement of Chinese language proficiency for the job in the next agreement; and

    - For serving agreement officers who could not achieve the required level of proficiency in the Chinese language for transfer to P&P terms, they might renew their contract for another term, subject to the requirement of the job at that point in time. Meanwhile, these officers should be encouraged to improve the language proficiency should they wish to remain in the civil service.

6. Representatives of SNEOA concluded that they considered Chinese and English languages equally important in the civil service. They pointed out that it was a rare phenomenon around the world for civil servants serving the community without knowing the local language. The situation must be rectified.

The Local Crown Counsel Association (LCCA)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1949/96-97(01)

7. A representative of the LCCA said that LCCA fully supported the views of SNEOA. She then presented the views of LCCA as set out in the paper. In her concluding remarks, she suggested a transitional period of five years for the bilingual requirement for civil servants to be implemented service-wide. If expertise of monolingual counsel was needed, they could be offered consultant terms until their service was not required.

Association of Expatriate Civil Servants of Hong Kong (AECS)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1949/96-97(02)

8. A representative of AECS said that AECS was of the view that an across-the-board language requirement, whether for serving officers or for new recruits, was unlawful as it contravened Article 21 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance. Articles 100 and 9 of the Basic Law also provided that public servants serving in the Hong Kong Government might all remain in employment with the Special Administrative Region Government, and that "in addition to the Chinese language, English may also be used as an official language" respectively. To impose a Chinese language requirement on all civil servants therefore would not converge with the relevant provisions of the Basic Law. A copy of his speaking note is in Appendix. In addition, representatives of AECS made the following points-

    - Other jurisdictions which had two official languages emphasized that proficiency in either language was appropriate for appointment to the service. For instance, a civil servant in Canada would not lose his job because he did not have proficiency in both official languages. If his shortcoming hindered him from providing public service, he would be offered training to improve his language proficiency, or to be transferred to an alternative post ;

    - The real purpose behind promoting bilingualism in civil service was in response to the AECS’s attempt to claim its legal right and the desire of the local union to remove overseas officers from their post in order to attain promotion; and

    - The requirement for Chinese for some professional posts might not be essential.

Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association (HKCCSA)

LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2048/96-97(01)

9. A representative of HKCCSA said that steps taken to impose stricter language requirements should be gradual and modest. Factors such as historical and cultural background, principle of the Basic Law, community needs, solidarity and stability in the civil service should be taken into consideration. He urged local and expatriate civil servants to reconcile their differences to work for the best interests of Hong Kong. He also urged public-funded organizations to promote the use of Chinese. Details of HKCCSA’s views were set out in the paper.

10. Queries/comments made by members were set out below-

    - Members were in general supportive of the Government’s localization policy and its long-term policy to develop a biliterate civil service. They also recognized the contribution of overseas officers to the efficient and effective operation of the Government;

    - The fact that English had been the sole language used in the Government was a legacy of the colonial rule. Having regard to historical legacy and Hong Kong being a pluralistic society, some members opined that flexibility on the Chinese language requirement should be exercised to accommodate existing expatriate officers;

    - Some members were concerned about the ability of expatriate officers in learning Chinese and in attaining Chinese proficiency at the HKCEE level given that Chinese was not an easy language to learn. In relation to crown counsel, a member pointed out that the rank required high level of language proficiency and he doubted whether overseas counsel could attain the Chinese language requirement. A member asked if there were any transitional arrangements to facilitate expatriate officers who failed in the test to remain in the service. A member expressed the view that assistance should be given to expatriate officers who failed in the proficiency test. The assistance might include renewal of contracts upon expiry, transfer to another post, etc.;

    - A member considered that the requirement for proficiency in the Chinese language might not be necessary for certain posts. It was important to strike a right balance between language proficiency and competence in the post, especially for professional grades such as engineers and crown counsel. The across-the-board language requirement would have an impact on serving officers who did not possess the required level of Chinese proficiency;

    - A member was of the view that in formulating language policy in the civil service, the Administration should take into account historical factors, legal impact and the long-term policy objective of the Government. In relation to new recruits, he was concerned whether the bilingual requirement would contravene the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance; and

    - Some members felt uncomfortable about the arguments and disputes between local and expatriate officers. They were concerned about the adverse effect on the morale in the civil service. They urged that local and expatriate officers should reconcile their differences for the benefits of the civil service.

11. In response to members, representatives of SNEOA made the following points-

    - Chinese and English languages were equally important in the civil service. The bilingual language requirement should be implemented across-the-board without prejudice. It should not be seen as a means to discriminate expatriate officers, but rather a fair and long-term policy to meet the needs of the Government and the society;

    - SNEOA’s main concern was on the Chinese language requirement for serving agreement officers who wished to transfer to P&P terms. The language requirement should apply to them equally;

    - SNEOA held the view that serving civil servants should as far as possible remain in employment in the civil service. In order to encourage expatriate officers learning Chinese and to facilitate them to remain in the service, SNEOA proposed that during the transitional period, officers not granted transfer to P&P terms because of failure to meet the Chinese language requirement might apply for renewal of agreement. If they fulfilled the criteria for renewal of agreement, they could still remain in the service on agreement terms; and

    - For new recruits, SNEOA supported the Government’s policy that all local recruits on P&P terms should be proficient in both Chinese and English.

12. Representatives of LCCA made the following points-

    - LCCA assured members that the Legal Department was prepared for bilingualism and had experienced and competent counsel to manage the Department efficiently and effectively. However, it would consider appointing monolingual counsels as consultants on a need basis;

    - Overseas agreement officers were on favorable terms and those who were appointed before 28 March 1985 were given the opportunity to apply for transfer to P&P before 30 June 1992. Having regard to the fact they had been given more than seven years to decide on their terms of appointment and the operation needs for a greater use of Chinese in the Department, it would be duly unfair if those who had not opted for transfer should be allowed to transfer to P&P terms now and be exempted from Chinese language requirement; and

    - LCCA had a harmonious relationship with expatriate counsel and its views should not be construed as ostracizing expatriate counsel as such.

13. In response to members and other associations, representatives of AECS made the following comments-

    - AECS accepted the proposed bilingual need to work with public and civil servants but found the across-the-board requirement for Chinese proficiency unacceptable. Using language requirement to deprive the right of permanent residents who were unable to speak both languages from equal access to the public service contravened the Bill of Rights Ordinance and the Basic Law;

    - AECS disagreed that allowing overseas agreement officers to transfer to P&P terms without the required Chinese language proficiency would perpetuate monoligualism in the civil service in the long term. The majority of overseas officers were approaching retirement age; and

    - There were not so much disputes but rather differences in opinion between local and expatriate officers. AECS’s argument had been with the Government setting a policy infringing the right of overseas officers who were permanent residents wished to continue to be civil servants.

14. A representative of HKCCSA reiterated that the level of Chinese proficiency should depend on the nature of the job itself irrespective of the existing terms of appointment. He urged that the Chinese language requirement imposed should be reviewed in one to two years time to take into consideration the progress made and prevailing circumstances. He also urged civil servants to be united to facilitate the smooth transition of the civil service after the handover.

Discussion with the Administration

LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1949/96-97(03)

15. In response to members, Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS) agreed that the Administration should have due regard to historical factors, legal impact, past and future policies of the Government when formulating a language policy in the civil service. The Administration should also consider the needs of the public as well as the existing level of language proficiency of the civil servants. He said that the Government’s long-term policy objective was to develop a civil service which was biliterate (reads and writes Chinese and English) and trilingual (speaks Cantonese, English and Putonghua). As language proficiency could only be developed through training and daily usage while the day-to-day language culture in the civil service could only be changed gradually, he shared with members and the associations concerned that the implementation of the policy should be flexible and progressive.

16. SCS added that subsequent to the Court of Appeal judgment, the Administration had consulted the Senior Civil Service Councils and the Public Service Commission on a package of proposals to give effect to the judgment. Among the proposed arrangements for transfer to P&P terms, it was proposed that agreement terms could continue to be offered to serving agreement officers on local terms such that they might have a choice of remaining in the service on agreement terms so long as they could meet the relevant criteria for renewal of agreement. It was also proposed that agreement officers who failed to meet the Chinese language requirement for transfer to P&P terms might also apply for renewal of agreement.

17. SCS clarified that the Court of Appeal had not ruled that the requirement of Chinese language proficiency in the civil service was unlawful. The Court of Appeal judgment merely emphasised that the principle of fairness, genuine need, rationality and proportionality should be observed when formulating such a requirement in the civil service.

IV. Mechanism for accreditation of academic qualifications from overseas

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1949/96-97(04)

18. In response to Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong’s question on the mechanism for checking authenticity of academic qualification, Deputy Secretary (Civil Service)1(Acting) (DS(CS)1(Atg)) said that for serving officers given the large number of officers involved, the Administration was only able to conduct random checking as far as resources permitted. For new recruits, however, departments/grades would examine the original certificates of the qualifications of all new recruits to check their authenticity and check with the issuing authority direct where necessary. He undertook to provide more information on the subject.


(Post-meeting note: The information paper was circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2425-96-97(01))

19. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that non-local qualifications assessments conducted on individual applicants to determine whether they met the entry requirements of the posts concerned were useful information for persons who were about to apply overseas institutions or posts in the civil service. He suggested that the Administration should made available to the public a list of non-local qualifications that had been accepted and not accepted for civil service appointments. His view was supported by Dr Anthony CHEUNG and Mr Michael HO.

20. DS(CS)1(Atg) said that the assessment of qualifications by the Civil Service Branch was made on a case-by-case basis solely for the purpose of civil service appointments and did not imply any general recognition or academic accreditation by the Government. In addition, the assessment was valid only at the time it was made without prejudice to any subsequent changes, such as changes to programmes of study. He cautioned that the compilation and announcement of a list of qualifications accepted and not accepted by the Government would provide misleading information to the public. He added that the Qualifications Section of the Civil Service Branch and the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (HKCAA) both provided enquiry service. He opined that the present arrangements had adequately catered for public needs and were transparent. In response to a further question from Mr CHEUNG Man-kwok, DS(CS)1(Atg) confirmed that the Qualifications Section would answer enquiries from the public in respect of acceptability of qualifications for civil service appointments.

21. In response to Mr Michael HO, DS(CS)1(Atg) said that if the information regarding certain institutions or qualifications were not available in the Qualifications Section, the Administration would seek advice from other accreditation authorities and HKCAA was the major source of information. In response to a further question from Mr HO, Assistant Secretary (Civil service) said that overseas qualifications, including those from British institutions, that were assessed as not comparable to local standards would not be accepted for civil service appointments.

22. Dr Anthony CHEUNG asked whether HKCAA could provide some guidelines such as criteria for assessing qualifications so that persons who wished to receive overseas training would know the type of institution and programme they should enroll in. DS(CS)1(Atg) undertook to relay the comments to HKCAA.


IV. Close of meeting

23. The meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
24 September 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998