To ensure the sustainability of public finance, the Hong Kong government implemented zero growth in civil service in 2021/22.
On Jan. 22, the Hong Kong government released the 2023-24 budget and announced that the civil service establishment would maintain zero growth in the new financial year of 2023/24.
The Government stated that civil service departments would enhance effectiveness and efficacy through reprioritization, internal redeployment, and streamlining of work processes to promote various new policies and initiatives.
However, under the “zero growth of civil service,” law enforcement expenses continued to rise.
Paul Chan Mau-po, Secretary for Finance, said in the budget speech that the peripheral environment remained full of challenges after two years of massive fiscal deficits during the pandemic. Chan said he would continue to abide by financial discipline and measures of income and expenditure, strictly control the growth of the civil service establishment, and discuss potential income increases.
The Government’s target of zero growth in the civil service establishment would remain unchanged in 2023/24. The Government expected that About 197,000 posts would remain in civil service establishments by the end of March 2024.
Staff Shortage in Post Offices Causes Problems
Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan, Secretary for the Civil Service at the Civil Service Bureau, posted an article online after the budget announcement.
Yeung wrote that innovation is the way forward in the face of resource constraints and encouraged the civil service team to use science and technology while working hard.
“We must stay current and review our work process and methods regularly. It will allow the civil service to run ahead and strive for excellence and achieve the maximum benefits with the least resources,” said the secretary for the civil service.
However, before the budget was revealed, some civil service unions said that the front line was experiencing staff shortages.
The Hong Kong Post Office staff union met with the authorities on Feb. 21. Their representatives expressed that it was difficult for the post office counter staff to get time off due to insufficient human resources. They demanded the department review whether the staff shortage was due to a lack of organization at office branches.
In addition, the meeting pointed out that as of September 2022, vacancies of senior postal workers were more than three times those of junior workers, who carry out more experienced post workers’ jobs for a prolonged period.
Civil servant resignation reached an all-time high since the Handover
As civil servants remained at zero growth, resignations increased.
The Hong Kong government announced in November 2022 that in the 2021/22 fiscal year, resignations of civil servants had nearly doubled from the previous year, from nearly 2,000 in 2020/21 to almost 4,000 in 2021/22.
The Civil Service Bureau stated then, “Although the number of civil servants quitting office has increased slightly in recent years, it has had little impact on the operation of the government.”
In January 2023, the Hong Kong government published that the number of resignations in civil servants in 2021/22 was 3,743, at a resignation rate of 2.11 percent, marking it the highest since the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The Government also updated the number in the first quarter of 2022/23. From April 1 to the end of June 2022, 944 civil servants resigned, reaching a 0.54 percent resignation rate in just three months.
Hong Kong Is Losing Police and Educators the Most
According to data, by March 31, 2022, the police department had the most vacancies, with 6,312 postings, at a vacancy rate of 16.7 percent. The vast majority of vacancies were junior police officer positions, with 5,284 vacancies, equivalent to a vacancy rate of 17.7 percent.
The Education Bureau, on the other hand, had 815 empty seats waiting to be filled, equivalent to a vacancy rate of 13 percent.
There are 949 vacancies in the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, equivalent to a vacancy rate of 8.99 percent.
The five positions with the most vacancies were junior police officers, level II workers, clerical assistants, clerical directors, and correctional assistants.
Hong Kong Police Force Expanded Since 2016
Although there are currently 6,312 job openings in the police force, the reason for the vacancies is due to the law enforcement expansion in recent years. From 2016 to the end of March 2022, the number of police officers increased by 4,709.
After the clashes between police and civilians in Mongkok in 2016, police force numbers increased yearly. Since March 2016, police officer numbers jumped from 33,688 to 35,436, an increase of 1,748 to the end of March 2019.
The number continued to shoot up.
After the 2019 Hong Kong Protests, there were 35,784 police officers at the end of March 2020; a further increase of 1,941 brought the number to 37,725 by the end of March 2021.
The Hong Kong Police Force pointed out that as of March 31, there would be 38,397 expected positions in the police force. But the number was forecast to decrease by 132 jobs in 2023/24.
The Gap Between Actual and Budget
Although there was a slight dip in human resources, the police’s budget for 2023/24 broke the previous high of HK$26.8411 billion (US$3.42 billion). Not only was the expenditure of the police the highest among all discipline forces, but the expenses were also higher by 6.1 percent over the revised budget in 2022/23.
Based on the previous records of the police department’s actual expenditure, the expenses during the anti-extradition movement were HK$23.701 billion (US$3.02 billion) in 2019/20. It had increased by 18.3 percent compared to 2018/19.
After that, the percentage dropped by 1.24 percent and 0.33 percent in the following two years.
However, the revised budget for the police force in 2022/23 ranked up to HK$25.303 billion (US$3.22 billion).
Police Spending on Special-purpose Vehicles and Equipment
In terms of expenses, the most significant part of the pie cut was salary. The budget for police salary in 2023/24 was HK$18.599 billion (US$2.37 billion), which would be more than the revised budget for 2022/23 of HK$17.313 billion (US$2.18 billion).
Meanwhile, the Government’s budget for police’s “machinery, vehicles and equipment” was HK$808.3 million (US$103 million) in 2023/24, making it an enormous leap from the revised budget of HK$43.06 million (US$5.5 billion) in 2022/23.
The expenditure in 2022/23 included replacements of multiple boats and six armored vehicles for the police coastal guard.
In 2021/22, the total expenses from the category were HK$26.865 million (US$3.4 million), and the approved budget for 2022/23 was HK$507.8 million (US$65 million). The Hong Kong government announced that the budget for special-purpose vehicles in 2023/24 for the Hong Kong Police Force would be HK$228.6 million (US$29 million).
The authorities explained that it was mainly due to the reduced cash flow demand to purchase special-purpose vehicles.