A group of lawmakers and activists have filed a complaint with the Ombudsman over the presence of government executive officers inside the legislature. They say that the officers, who are tasked with checking the whereabouts of lawmakers, represent an abuse of power.
Last week, Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui was embroiled in controversy after he snatched an officer’s phone who was working in the legislative complex for the Security Bureau. Hui was suspended by his party over the incident and apologised, but he had said the intention of his behaviour was to understand what information the officers had retained about lawmakers.
Roy Tam, a district councillor for the Neo Democrats party, said the deployment of government “marshalls” in the legislature – who ensure meetings have a quorum and enough votes – may be a violation of the Basic Law.
Tam cited University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai as saying that Article 62(6) of the Basic Law stipulates that the government can designate officials to sit in on the meetings of the Legislative Council and to speak on behalf of the government, but did not stipulate that it can send officials to the legislature to monitor lawmakers.
Tam said it was “well known” that the information of lawmakers’ whereabouts were given to the pro-Beijing camp so that they do not miss out on voting: “Civil servants are violating their political neutrality.”
‘Abuse of power’
Tam also said there were media reports saying that the officer in the Ted Hui incident was one of three senior executive officers of the Narcotics Division under the Security Bureau.
“Why did the Commissioner for Narcotics approve an officer to work on duties completely unrelated to narcotics? The meeting when the incident happened was about the joint checkpoint arrangement [of the Express Rail Link],” Tam said.
“This is an abuse of power and a harassment for lawmakers,” he added.
Lawmaker Gary Fan of the Neo Democrats said the government has never fully revealed what the executive officers’ duties were, and has never made a specific funding request for the officers.
“If the government believes that it is legitimate to send officers to the legislature to monitor, manipulate or observe lawmakers, please formally ask for funding from the Legislative Council,” he said.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said last Saturday that the officers kept a low profile when exercising their duty to “observe” lawmakers.
“We only wish to know if we have quorum for meetings, to ensure a smooth meeting, especially during voting,” he said. “We would not harass any lawmakers or infringe on their privacy.”
But Tam criticised Cheung for “playing with words.”
“I believe Matthew Cheung would not want himself to be observed like that either,” he said.
In a statement last week, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said that the officers’ duties were not a violation to privacy laws as there was a legitimate purpose to know the whereabouts of lawmakers inside the legislature, and it was not unreasonable for lawmakers to expect that their behaviour would be observed by others in public places.
However, the Office also said that officers should remove information on lawmakers as soon as possible, after they complete their duties each day.