Hong Kong’s police officers received HK$235 million (US$30 million) in meal and other allowances as the force was mobilised during the past six months of social unrest, on top of the almost HK$1 billion in overtime claims previously announced.
A letter on Friday from the Civil Service Bureau to the Legislative Council showed that between June and November, frontline officers and back-end clerical staff, including those who had carried out tasks beyond their job description, were given allowances worth HK$85 million.
Another HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) was spent on meals, but officers deployed in the field and unable to get food were later provided with lunchboxes, with a police source saying this had run up a further HK$100 million bill.
A police spokesman said the daily rate of food allowance for each person ranged from HK$69 to HK$137.
He did not give the figures for both the job-related allowances and food allowances for the same period last year.
The figures were made public two weeks after the Security Bureau disclosed the government had paid about 11,000 police officers overtime wages of up to HK$950 million (US$122 million) over the past six months.
It is unclear how much of the HK$235 million can be attributed to police work on the anti-government protests, with opposition lawmakers chastising the bureau for failing to provide a fully itemised breakdown. Previous years’ figures did not give a breakdown on meal allowances and the force did not respond to queries.
A check by the Post of the 2019-2020 budget showed that “unspecified allowances and job-related allowances” amounted to HK$430 million.
Hong Kong has been embroiled in protests since June, triggered by an unpopular extradition bill that was withdrawn in September. The unrest, now into its seventh month, shows no sign of ending.
In recent months, peaceful marches turned increasingly violent as protesters hurled petrol bombs and bricks at police officers who resorted to tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds for dispersal.
The city’s 30,000-strong force had been stretched to the limit, police top brass said, sometimes working day and night and on public holidays to contain the demonstrations.
But as the protest movement has increasingly shifted its focus onto allegations of police brutality, officers’ pay has come under recent scrutiny by opposition lawmakers.
The Civil Service Bureau’s letter was in response to pro-democracy legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s request for further details on overtime wages.
The letter said that one of several criteria in the civil servants’ guidelines stated members of the disciplined forces could claim “job-related allowances”, if he or she carried out duties different to their job nature and rank.
Another rule permitted allowances to be granted when there were justifiable “special and unique” circumstances, the letter said.
Those who earned less than HK$105,000 per month were eligible for the allowances, which had been granted to dog trainers, drivers, divers, undercover officers and police detectives, as well as officers responsible for protecting public officials.
Former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said everyone should be compensated for their work according to their conditions of service.
Officers had worked extremely hard at all hours over the past months, she said. “They should be compensated for the work they have done to uphold law and order in Hong Kong,” she added.
A police source said it was part of regular expenditures and came under existing mechanisms.
There had been a lot more meal claims because police were working long hours dealing with the protests. “It is not a new or extra allowance,” he said.
Some plain-clothes officers had been assigned to driving duties but had not put in claims, despite these tasks not being part of their job description, he added.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting agreed it was not something new.
“But the question is whether the amount is appropriate, how many people have received it and whether it is related to the work of suppressing the protests,” he said.
Lam said the bureau had provided insufficient details, a view echoed by Chu, who said this was precisely why opposition lawmakers had raised a motion in Legco to summon the police commissioner.
“It is to stop the force from releasing details little by little,” Chu said.
He said he would continue to write to police and join other opposition lawmakers in pressing for more details during coming meetings at the financial committee when they would gather to discuss salary adjustments for civil servants.
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