Editorial:Top Talent Pass Scheme Lacked Consideration

【明報專訊】The government's vetting process for the Top Talent Pass Scheme has landed in controversy. He Jiankui, an academic who was jailed on the mainland for genetically editing human embryos, had been granted a visa to Hong Kong under the scheme. His qualification was revoked only last night (21 February) after the case had raised wide concern. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare said yesterday that applicants were not required to declare whether they had criminal records in the scheme's application process. However, according to the Immigration Department's website, aside from the eligibility criteria of academic qualifications or working income, applicants under the scheme have to meet normal entry requirements, such as having no record of serious crimes.

There may be room for discussion regarding whether the scheme should rule out all applicants with criminal records. But the authorities should have stated clearly in the first place that it is required to declare criminal records, rather than granting approvals unknowingly and shifting the responsibility to the "last gatekeeper" — the Director of Immigration. The incident shows that the government should be more meticulous in formulating policies and more cautious in executing them.

The Top Talent Pass Scheme was launched by the government late last year to trawl for high-earners and elite college graduates. So far, the scheme has received over 10,000 applications, and nearly 8,000 have been approved — He Jiankui's being one of them. He was an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen when he announced in late 2018 that he had applied genome editing techniques to human embryos. His work led to the birth of innately HIV-immune twin girls on the mainland, which became the world's first case of gene-edited babies.

Not only did the incident spark a storm of controversy over medical ethics, but it also brought him and two collaborators to court on the mainland. A court in Shenzhen held that the defendants had knowingly violated the country's regulations on scientific research and medical management and ruled the three of them guilty of charges including "illegal medical practice". Among them, He Jiankui received the heaviest sentence of three years in jail. He was also "blacklisted" and banned from working in services related to assisted human reproductive technology for life.

After his release from prison last April, He set up the "Jiankui He Lab" in Beijing to engage in scientific research on gene therapy for rare genetic diseases. Early this month, he submitted an application online for the Top Talent Pass Scheme and was granted approval one week later. He was then about to contact some universities and scientific research institutions in Hong Kong for collaborative and working opportunities. He did not respond when asked if he had mentioned his criminal record when applying for the scheme.

Companies are glad to hire more ex-offenders for frontline or junior positions, but they may have more concerns when recruiting middle- to senior-level staff or senior researchers. The case of He Jiankui is complicated not only because he was convicted of "illegal medical practice", but also because he had transgressed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research.

The most perplexing part of the matter is why the Labour and Welfare Bureau did not ask Top Talent Pass Scheme applicants to declare their criminal records in the first place. It was only in the wake of the controversy surrounding He Jiankui that the various departments made haste to make up for it, including requiring all applicants to declare details of any criminal record starting from today (22 February) and investigating whether He had made false statements.

The incumbent government places high importance on KPIs (key performance indicators). But if its focus is only on chasing after indicators and meeting deadlines, its policies will be half-baked and cost-effectiveness will be neglected. That will only lead to problems of all sorts.

明報社評2023.02.22:政策制訂不夠縝密 高才通審批出亂子









/ Glossary生字 /

vetting:the process of finding out everything about sb's past life and career in order to decide if they are suitable for sth

trawl:to search through a large amount of information or a large number of people, places, etc. looking for a particular thing or person

transgress:to go beyond the limit of what is morally or legally acceptable

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