Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong Kah-kit and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):
The media earlier reported that the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) deployed public resources of the Government to prepare for his Chief Executive (CE) electioneering campaign, including the design of a relevant web site, which has aroused public concern. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the authorities will investigate the aforesaid matter to ascertain if the alleged deployment of public resources by CS for preparing his CE electioneering campaign has contravened the Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the Chief Executive Elections, and if the provision of advice by some civil servants on the design of and technical support for the aforesaid web site has contravened the Civil Service Code; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) as it was reported that the contents of the aforesaid web site focused mainly on CS, and the Internet Professional Association (iProA) was involved in the production of the web site, whether the aforesaid web site was set up for CS to discharge his public duties; given that one of the organisations commissioned by the Government to implement the Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) is formed by iProA and another organisation, if the aforesaid web site was set up for the discharge of public duties, whether the ILSP selection board members knew about the involvement of iProA in the production of the aforesaid web site; if the web site was not set up for the discharge of public duties, whether CS has made a declaration to the government department responsible for implementing ILSP; and
(c) whether the Government will consider formulating guidelines to explicitly require that principal officials under the accountability system and Executive Council Members who plan to stand for elections to public office must resign at a specified time, so as to avoid the allegation of using public resources to conduct electioneering campaigns and to ensure that elections to public office are conducted in a fair, just and open manner; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) According to the Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the Chief Executive Elections as well as the rules and guidelines issued by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB), officers who are particularly susceptible to accusations of bias, namely Directorate Officers, Administrative Officers, Police Officers and Information Officers, are prohibited from participating in electioneering activities. There is no objection in principle to other civil servants and non-civil service contract staff to participate in electioneering activities in their private capacity provided that it does not give rise to any conflict of interest with their official duties. Officers concerned should also comply with the Civil Service Regulations on outside work. CSB will normally ask bureaux/departments to remind all staff of the rules on participation in electioneering by re-circulating the relevant guidelines before an election.
Regarding the incident reported by the media earlier, the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) has already issued a statement emphasising that in the use of government resources he had fully complied with relevant government regulations.
It was alleged in the press report that one civil servant and one non-civil service contract staff had taken part in the design meeting of the website. The Information Services Department (ISD) had already stated that it had not sent any member of its staff to attend the meeting referred to in the press report and it had further investigated if the two public officers had attended the meeting in their private capacity. As mentioned in the statement by the ISD on June 27, the civil servant had not attended the meeting referred to in the press report, had not heard of the website mentioned, and had not participated in any electioneering activities. Regarding the non-civil service contract staff, the staff had, in a private capacity and outside office hours, exchanged views on issues not related to official duties. Neither remuneration nor government resources were involved. There was no conflict of interest with the staff's official duties. The ISD is therefore of the view that the staff has not breached any civil service rules or guidelines. The CSB had scrutinised the report submitted by the ISD and endorsed the findings.
(b) There is only one official website for the CS, i.e. www.cso.gov.hk. The ISD is the webmaster of the website, providing website design and technical support in relation to the official duties and responsibilities of the CS. The CS had firmly stated earlier that he was not involved in the work relating to the Internet Learning Support Programme.
(c) Section 14 of the Chief Executive Election Ordinance (Cap. 569) stipulates that any person holding an office, whether permanent or temporary in a Government department or bureau and employed in the department or bureau, is disqualified from being nominated as a candidate at a Chief Executive election. According to the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System, politically appointed officials are disqualified from being nominated as a candidate at an election of the Chief Executive. Apart from the above requirements, if any principal official or member of the Executive Council wishes to stand for the election of the Chief Executive, he/she may decide on his/her own when to step down from office. As participation in a Chief Executive election is a personal decision, we believe that there is no need to specify the time by which a prospective candidate should step down from office. Moreover, it is stipulated in section 37 of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (Cap. 554) that each candidate at an election of the Chief Executive must lodge with the Chief Electoral Officer an election return setting out the candidate’s election expenses in the election and all election donations received by or on behalf of the candidate in connection with the election. In view of the above, we consider that there already exist clear and definite provisions to ensure that elections will be held in a fair, just and open manner.
Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2011