Public service trainee
Tai Hang district councillor David Wong Chor-fung quit his job as an administrative officer (AO) five years ago, giving up a coveted, fast-tracked career in the government while throwing himself into community politics that entailed a pay cut and an unclear career path.
“An AO is like a screw in a big machine, [whereas] as a district councillor, I get to help people in very direct ways and see the results,” says Wong, who is also a member of the Savantas Policy Institute, a think tank founded by legislative councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.
The work of district councillors is advisory in nature, often involving the handling of inquiries and complaints from the community, and reflecting various views to the government. Wong meets with people from diverse backgrounds, and deals with issues such as water leakages, traffic congestion or the height of buildings.
What is a typical day for you?
I meet with people who live in Tai Hang and attend meetings arranged by organisations such as the Wan Chai District Council, of which Tai Hang is a part. I also organise events, such as local tours, to facilitate interaction in the neighbourhood.
This is not a nine-to-five job. I have to go to dinner and meetings in the evening, and attend ceremonial functions over the weekend. I expect calls from the public any time.
What’s your salary?
As a district councillor, I earn HK$24,000 a month. I also receive HK$20,000 of [allowance] from which I pay the rent for my office, related electricity and gas bills and my assistant.
Why did you become an AO?
I received my bachelor's degree in Canada in 2002. Towards graduation, a friend who was going to sit the written test for AO asked me to join him. I passed the test and later the interviews. I was interested in public policy and thought the job would allow me to contribute to society.
Why did you quit?
As an AO, I drafted [policy] documents and helped respond to questions raised by members of the press and by legislators. But my work did not seem to have any impact. It was frustrating, particularly because my three-year stint overlapped with the period when Hong Kong was hit by Sars, when the government lacked popular support.
What happened next?
When I quit at the end of 2005, I knew I wanted to run for the district council election. I stood on the streets for months [to promote myself], distributing leaflets about myself. I also identified one of the causes of a traffic jam at an intersection and helped solve the problem by lobbying the government to install a traffic light. I was able to do so [partly] because as a former AO I knew which department to talk to and how to [persuade] the officials. I listed this [achievement] on my election leaflet. I joined Savantas in 2007 and won the seat in Tai Hang at the end of the year.
Why did you join Savantas?
Mrs. Ip was a highly respected AO among civil servants. She was reputed for being a good mentor and giving opportunities to her staff. I believed I would learn a lot from her, so I approached her about joining the institute.
Any plans to run for the Legco election?
Politics is full of uncertainty. [Whether to run for a seat in the Legco] depends on many factors.
What's the flip side of being a district councillor?
The pay is relatively low, and this may not be a permanent job. However, I can make a difference to other people's lives. Just recently, I helped a man resolve a noise problem and he sent me a hamper for the Mid-Autumn Festival and thanked me profusely. A district councilor's contribution is visible, you get feedback quickly, and it is very satisfying when people appreciate what you do.
Don't commit lightly
- You will have to live up to the public's expectations
- Political party colleagues will be counting on you
- Expect relatively low pay and unstable job security