The Legislative Assembly debated the recruitment issues related to public departments yesterday. The matter concerns workers recruited by the government through irregular contracts, such as the controversial recruitment system that has been in use for the past few years by the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC), lead the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture to initiate disciplinary procedures against the former IC president, Ung Vai Meng, along with the two IC vice presidents during Ung’s tenure.
The debate was proposed by lawmaker Leong Veng Chai, who in his opening remarks noted that these specific irregular contracts indicated the affected employees were not temporary, since the work performed by civil servants was regulated in the same way as that of standard contract workers.
In addition, these outsourced employees could obtain salaries corresponding to civil servants’ wages or even higher.
Leong declared that the Secretary for Administration and Justice, Sonia Chan, must supervise public services especially related to this area.
Sonia Chan began by stating that there are still around 10 people who were hired through irregular contract arrangements working in government departments. She added that those people do not include the ones working for the IC. According to Sonia Chan, the government is trying to solve the problems surrounding these workers.
Some of them will not see their contracts renewed after their employment contracts come to an end; some will be dealt with through normal recruitment methods.
Some people were employed by the government through task contracts, lawmaker Leong Veng Chai mentioned.
According to Sonia Chan, currently task contracts do not exist in government departments following a Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) report that triggered the IC case.
The secretary noted that problematic recruitment was not a consequence of the recruitment policy of the city’s public departments, deeming that the recruitment system itself is not a mistake.
Sonia Chan believes that the key lies in how the government uses the system.
Further, she believes that, after CCAC’s persuasion, the involved government departments should gain enough insight on how to use the system properly.
Despite this, all lawmakers who voiced their opinion during the AL plenary meeting yesterday agreed that some government departments have problematic recruitment procedures. Lawmaker Melinda Chan commented that firing the people hired through contracts would be unfair to them.
The secretary responded by saying that putting an end to the employment contracts will lead to some of the people involved becoming unemployed.
However, she informed that these workers knew in the first place that the government departments were signing temporary contracts with them, whereby there is no unfairness.
In addition, Sonia Chan refuted claims made by lawmaker Leong Veng Chai, who said that the Legal Affairs Bureau (DSAJ) holds many employees hired through problematic contracts.
Lawmaker Mak Soi Kun told Sonia Chan “it does not seem that you are debating with us. You have the responsibility to supervise.” He explained that Chan’s department has the responsibility to supervise departments with the aim of simplifying their administration procedures and reducing the number of workers.
Mak pointed out that the departments under Sonia Chan’s responsibility should have a system in place to supervise themselves in order to help her departments form a simpler administration.
Sonia Chan told Mak that her departments have indeed been reviewing and supervising themselves.
Lawmaker Leong Veng Chai then seized a chance to reply to her. Leong informed that a few civil servants from the DSAJ had reported that their bureau was employing many workers hired through irregular contracts.
“It is a little bit funny that you ask me to provide evidence,” Leong said, adding that the lawmakers also reported the issues to the government but the government did not care.
“You paid attention when the CCAC brought out a report. I hope that you could comprehend when lawmakers give opinions,” Leong argued.
Secretary Sonia Chan acknowledged her responsibilities in supervising irregular recruitment, although she denied that the DSAJ had hired people through task contracts.
Lawmaker Zheng Anting pointed out that nobody has been punished in light of the irregular recruitments.
Moreover, Zheng wondered whether corruption was involved in these cases. He also noted that some departments have more employees than necessary, while others do not have enough employees.
Sonia Chan clarified that the leadership within these departments will review all cases as to figure out if illegal behaviour was involved in the recruitment process.
Chan also said that, currently, her departments are controlling the total number of employees.
Lawmaker Au Kam San said that “bureaucracy is like this; if no incidents happen, they [department leaders] will keep sitting in their positions.”
Sonia Chan, in reply to several lawmakers, claimed that her departments hope to come up with an accountability system by June, and that the said system will be implemented within the year.
In her conclusion, Sonia Chan said that “the fourth SAR government pays importance to the construction and reform of the civil servants’ system.
“Through the reform of the civil servants’ system, government departments can implement policies according to the law,” she added.
“CCAC reports are a very good reminder to several of our departments,” she said, adding that the administration and justice fields will construct systems according to their rights and will also enhance the training of civil servants.