Bored with Promotion Boards
In February of 2004, the Hong Kong newspapers announced that the overtime pay for Correctional Services prison guards, the sum of which came to something in the region of two billion dollars, would not be paid. The staff took legal action, which was rejected by the courts and at the time of writing the matter is still unresolved.
In the early nineties, the government and hierarchy of the (then) Royal Hong Kong Police Force faced the inevitability that Special Branch would have to be wound down and closed within the next few years.
Fearing a mass exodus of staff at all levels once the news was out, an announcement was made that staff who stayed until the bitter end (July 1995) would be paid a Special Service Allowance (SSA). I recall the day I was called into the office of the Chief Superintendent, who was then tasked with the job of keeping us all happy. This gentleman, genuinely kind and a devoted Christian, told me that the SSA would be paid; he mentioned a monthly figure, informed me that it would be index-linked and then mentioned a point that was especially important. It would not be taxable. I signed up for a further contract and got on with my job; at that time the thought that the hierarchy could not be trusted did not even occur to me.
Imagine my surprise then, at a point one year into my next contract, when I was called into a meeting that was to be chaired by one of the Assistant Directors of Special Branch (ADSB). This gentleman, Mr. O, who also held the rank of Chief Superintendent of Police, did not waste time. He curtly informed us that it had been decided that the SSA would be taxable. One brave individual started to point out that the initial information we had been given had indicated the opposite, and in reply, the ADSB pointed to the door and said, “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
Even with the deduction of the tax, there was still a considerable amount of money involved, so not surprisingly, no one left. Morale, however, not high at the best of times, took a downward turn. A few years later I had another run-in with the ADSB in question.
Towards the winding down, promotions became almost non-existent and we were all pleasantly surprised when we were told that there would be one final Senior Confidential Assistant Post created. Everyone eligible, which by this time was almost all the Confidential Assistants (CA) remaining, applied for the post.
I felt confident that I was in the running. I had seven years of experience, a clean record and a Commanding Officer’s Commendation. Unless I was incredibly unlucky or did something stupid, I was a shoo-in.
Special Branch had always been a melting pot of personalities; good, bad, fat, slim, sober and otherwise, civilian or disciplined. And then there was Ms A, which is obviously not her real name. Ms A was a character. Obese to the point of being a danger to shipping, my introduction to her had taken place some six years earlier.
I had been sent on an urgent job to one of the sections in order to obtain an Immigration Department clearance. Ms A was the CA in charge of their registry and she informed me that if I wanted the necessary clearance I would have to join her in a shot of whiskey. A budding piss artist even in those days, this would not ordinarily have been a problem for me. The problem was that it was only nine-thirty in the morning!
Gritting my teeth, and my tummy, I swallowed the shot and held out my hand for the clearance, not realising that Ms A was so impressed with the way I had downed the first shot that I was now required to have another.
I retreated, tummy groaning, with my clearance and did not come across Ms A for some time after that. Rumours of her exploits, however, kept us all amused and it was when she was posted to the Mail Room with the job of delivering classified documents that she once again came to notice.
The CAs and lower-ranking disciplined staff all by nature held the higher-ranking officers in awe and fear. It was with amusement then that we found out that Ms A was kicking their doors open and greeting them with, “Good Morning. Here’s yer focking mail!”
We offered each other gallons of beer to emulate her behaviour, but sensibly, no one had the guts to try it.
Then came the SCA board, and shortly thereafter the results.
It was customary that your Commanding Officer (CO) would deliver the letter of appointment, or failure, to you in person so as to offer either congratulations or commiserations. My CO left my letter of failure in my in-tray, retreated into his office, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and then closed and locked it.
Okay, I thought, I didn’t get the post, I was disappointed but not devastated, but obviously, I wondered who had. I went into the secretaries’ office, gave them a friendly good morning, and was surprised by their cowed expressions. No one wanted to speak to me. Ignoring their behaviour, I asked if anyone knew who had got the promotion. Then the ceiling fell in on me. It was Ms A! The obese, whiskey gulping, effer and blinder! All my hard work and grovelling had got me absolutely nowhere. I was speechless; I felt my teeth growing longer (I still had teeth in those days), started salivating, and bloody drool flowed copiously from my snarling mouth.
It was then that I found the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the CO’s door and I did the unthinkable. I went upstairs to the Group Head’s office and found that he too was “busy”. His secretary, in her best telephone operator voice, stood in front of his door, arms crossed over a delectable bosom and asked if she could be of assistance. I waved my letter in her face, unable to trust my voice. She promised to let ‘Al’ know of my visit and went to cower behind her desk.
That lunchtime I went up to the mess and had a few calming drinks. By 1:30 a.m. the next morning I was somewhat calmer, (less tired and emotional) but no less angry. It was not the failure to get the promotion that galled me; it was the person whom they had chosen in my place that hurt. If I had spoken to just one officer in the manner in which Ms A so often did, my career with Special Branch would have been severely curtailed.
So be it. The following morning was dedicated to the challenge of overcoming a monumental hangover. Moments after my arrival I received a call to inform me that the Assistant Director of Special Branch, Mr O, was waiting for me in his office.
After brushing my teeth (now back to their normal size) for the eighth time I managed to navigate my way up to his office. He asked me in, offered me a seat and got straight to the point.
“Mr Sloan,” he said, “I know you’re disappointed about the SCA post, but what you have to realise is that these are long service appointments.”
They weren’t, I pointed out to him, and then asked very bluntly if such was the case, why did they put everyone through the stress of a promotion board, and not just give out the appointment to the longest-serving CA?
ADSB Mr O looked at me in silence for a moment, his face showing a combination of shock, horror and sadness. He appeared to be at a loss to know what to do or say. In his thirty-five year career in the force, only one person had had the temerity to speak to him in such a manner, and he had just promoted her. He took out his notebook and fiddled with a pen, then looking at me almost mournfully over his half-moon glasses, in a gentle voice asked, “So, tell me, when does your contract expire?”
Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 – Not for Publication