Allegiance bill breezes through

The Legislative Council has passed a bill requiring all district councillors to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and uphold the Basic Law, with the oath-taking set to take place next month.

The Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) amendment bill was passed with 40 in favor. Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai was the only one in opposition, and the medical sector’s Pierre Chan Pui-yin abstained.

A list of criteria will be used to determine oath breaches for legislators and district councillors.

Endangering national security and advocating Hong Kong independence, taking part in activities that hamper the city’s overall interest or publicly insulting the SAR flag and emblem will be regarded as a breach of oath.

Once a councillor is suspected to have violated their oath by the Department of Justice, they will be suspended from work until a court decision is made.

They will also not be allowed to take part in elections in the next five years upon conviction, counting from the day of their disqualification.

The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, said the bill will be gazetted and put into effect on May 21. Four district councillors who were disqualified in the now-postponed Legco election last year – Fergus Leung Fong-wai, Lester Shum Ngo-fai, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai and Cheng Tat-hung – will lose their seats by then.

Sources said district councillors will be required to take the oath as early as June.

During the meeting, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, disagreed that the amendments are additional requirements for district councillors, with intention to crack down on dissent.

She said upholding the Basic Law and pledging allegiance to the SAR have always been a basic requirement and obligation for people administering Hong Kong, so it is absolutely reasonable for those insisting to cross the line to bear legal consequences.

Fellow pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun raised concerns over the Department of Justice’s expanding powers.

“Even if lawmakers were charged with corruption, murder or arson, they will not be suspended in their duties before conviction, but now they will the moment the department starts a prosecution against them.”

The Democratic Party’s Sin Chung-kai, chairman of the Kwai Tsing District Council, estimated about 20 percent, or 70, out of 349 pro-democracy district councillors would resign before the oath-taking. At least 29 district councillors have already resigned over the past six months.

Fellow Kwai Tsing district councillor Ivan Wong Yun-tat announced his resignation yesterday after holding the position for 13 years, while Tuen Mun district councillor Ma Kee also stepped down, saying he cannot agree with the requirements of the oath.

As of now, all 19 district councillors from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood have decided to take the oath.

District councillors who did not resign but are disqualified after they are deemed to have breached the oath could be asked to repay salaries and expenses amounting to as much as HK$1.7 million for the past 17 months, sources said.

It is understood that those unable to return the money to the government will be declared bankrupt.

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