CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Diocese bitterly disappointed with court decision on the running of schools


HONG KONG (SE): The diocese of Hong Kong expressed its disappointment at a ruling made in the Court of Final Appeal on October 13, which upheld the position of the government on the constitutionality of the Education (Amendment) Ordinance 2004, which the diocese sought to get overturned.

However, the diocese will obey the law and the statement adds, “… continue to abide by her commitment to serve the students with love and in accordance with Catholic beliefs and principles.”

The diocese argued before the court on October 3 and 4 that anything less than absolute control would be detrimental to its mission of Catholic education.

In handing down a ruling at a judicial review in the Court of Appeal on February 3 last year, Frank Justice Stock, Wally Justice Yeung and Michael Justice Hartmann ruled that this would be at odds with government objective of creating transparency and accountability.

The diocese, however, said in its October 13 statement that it has always supported transparency and accountability, “but it objects to incorporating the school management committees being the only means to run schools.”

The ordinance, which was passed on 8 July 2004, requires all government aided schools to establish Incorporated Management Committees as the sole governing body in the day-today running of schools, which the diocese claims would remove, or at least dilute its ability to formulate the mission and vision of the school.

In delivering the decision of the Court of Final Appeal, Kemal Justice Bokhary noted, “The challenge fails because the challenged legislation leaves religious organisations free to nominate a majority on the Incorporated Management Committees of aided schools which they sponsor.”

In its statement, the diocese notes, “The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong maintains the view that there is no causal relationship between the Incorporated Management Committee (IMC) and school democratisation, and that forming the IMC makes it more difficult for the sponsoring body to achieve its vision and mission in education.”

The ordinance requires that a representative from the staff, alumni and parents of a school be elected to each committee. 

The remainder of members is to be made up of the principal and supervisor and a number of representatives appointed by the sponsoring body, to the extent that the elected representatives make up at least 40 per cent of the committee.

The diocese also objected to the ordinance as it does not specify what action can be taken if the committee fails in its responsibility to formulate its education policies according to the vision and mission set by the sponsoring body.

An educational advisor to the Anglican Church, which runs 80 aided schools in the territory, said that he too is disappointed with the ruling. 

He was quoted by the South China Morning Post (October 14) as saying, “With the establishment of committees, there is a chance for people whose vision runs against our mission to join the board.”

This has been the long standing objection to the ordinance voiced by the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun. He has pointed out that the ordinance also changes the manner in which principals are appointed, as it takes this responsibility out of the hands of the sponsoring body.

Much of the discussion in the October 3 and 4 hearing revolved around what it means to run a school. The ordinance describes the duties of the sponsoring body as setting the vision and mission, and ensuring that the mission is carried out, “giving general directions to the IMC in the formulation of education policies of the school (and) overseeing the performance of the IMC.”

For its part, the committee is responsible for “formulating education policies in the school in accordance with the vision and mission set by the sponsoring body… planning and managing financial and human resources… accounting to the permanent secretary and the sponsoring body… ensuring that the education… is promoted in a proper manner… and planning and self-improvement of the school.”

The diocese claims that there is a loss of guarantee of priority on the part of the sponsoring body. However, the ruling in last year’s judicial review stated that the diocese had overstated its former priority, as the director of education always had the last say in appointments of supervisors and was not duty bound to consult the sponsoring body.

The ruling also points out that since the constitution for each management committee is to be drawn up by the sponsoring body it is incumbent on the body to protect its interests in the constitution.

Hiring and firing of staff is also an issue, as the diocese objected to the removal of this power from the supervisor in favour of the committee, but the 2010 ruling claims that because the sponsoring body has a 60 per cent majority on the committee, it still maintains this right.

While the diocese centred its objection around the provision in the Basic Law that it could continue to run its schools according to the pre-handover practice, the Court of First Instance ruled in a judgement penned by Cheung that the management committee does not impinge upon this right.

He said that the over 50 per cent of Hong Kong schools run by religious organisations “could continue to be run according to whatever practice those religious organisations deemed appropriate,” so long as due acknowledgement is made of “forward looking programmes based on existing legislation.”

The ruling also stresses that the court decision is limited to the legality of the ordinance and does not concern itself with its educational merits.

Surveys done among schools that have already formed committees, show that they tend to have very little impact on the educational side of the school, but have proved useful on the management side of things.

They also reveal that most schools have found that incorporating the committees can be a hindrance to their work and wonder at the wisdom of continuing this practice.

In addition, Francis Chan Nai-kwok, from the Catholic Education Office, said that since his office has responsibility for over 300 schools, it is a formidable task to find three or four people for each school who are willing to volunteer their time and service in time to meet the government deadline.

He added that his office has been involved in on-going discussions over the past five years with the Education Bureau on the function of the committees and that the bureau is prepared to be flexible.

“It already knows what are some of the problems and shortcomings, and is prepared to be flexible in helping to iron out the difficulties that have already emerged,” he told the Sunday Examiner.

The diocese for its part, while stating that the ordinance makes it more difficult for the sponsoring body to achieve its vision and mission in education, will continue to serve the Hong Kong community.


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