A committee set up by pro-democracy local councillors in Hong Kong will be shunned by the government and cut adrift from official channels after it was deemed illegal, the city's No 2 official said on Saturday.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said setting up the panel, which was intended to focus on security and constitutional affairs, went beyond the powers of Tai Po District Council.
On Wednesday, a district officer for Tai Po and a group of her colleagues walked out during a council meeting as members set about choosing a chairman and vice-chairman for the new committee. The walkout, and a similar incident in another district, triggered controversy and one complaint to the Ombudsman, with some accusing the officials of displaying political partiality by leaving.
Cheung told a radio programme on Saturday: "The district officer sought legal advice, which clearly stated that the work of the committee deviated from the District Councils Ordinance. It's ultra vires, which means beyond one's power … it could be illegal."
He said that was why the officials could not stay in the meeting, telling reporters after the programme that officials would not join any of the committee's future meetings.
"Relevant government officials will not attend, this is very clear," he said, adding that district staff were unlikely to provide the usual secretarial services, "if the formation of the committee does not have a legal basis".
According to the ordinance Cheung cited, the city's 18 district councils, each of which has an officer who serves as a link to the city government, are there to advise on local community matters and focus on livelihood issues. Cheung added that they should not be platforms for political expression.
A day after the Tai Po walkout, a similar incident happened at a Central and Western District Council meeting.
Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung, who was at the meeting to answer councillors' questions on the force's conduct since anti-government protests began last June, walked out of the conference room with other officers as council chairwoman Cheng Lai-king read out a motion supporting the establishment of an independent judge-led inquiry into the social unrest as well as condemning Tang for condoning "police violence".
The government later issued a statement to say it disagreed with the motion, which it said "made unfounded allegations against police".
On Friday, a group of pro-democracy politicians filed an official complaint with the Ombudsman against Susanne Wong Ho Wing-sze, a Central and Western district officer who walked out during the motion of condemnation, accusing her of violating the political neutrality of the civil service.
But Secretary for the Civil Service Joshua Law Chi-kong defended Wong's actions, saying he believed she had done nothing wrong.
The incidents underscore the worsening relationship between the administration and the 18 district councils, all but one of which are dominated by opposition politicians after the pro-democracy bloc won a landslide victory in the November elections.
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