Following is a question by the Hon Cyd Ho under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (February 29):
The Chief Executive (CE) openly admitted on February 22 that during his term of office, he accepted entertainment offered by tycoons on four occasions. The persons offering the entertainment included the supporters of one of the contenders for the office of CE. Members of the public not only query that the entertainment may involve a conflict of interest, but also worry that some people are interfering with the election of the next-term CE by offering entertainment to CE. In addition, quite a number of serving or retired civil servants made telephone calls to radio programmes on current affairs in recent days, saying that the nature and contents of the entertainment accepted by CE were in breach of the relevant disciplinary requirements for civil servants, and the incident had dealt a serious blow to the integrity of CE as well as the clean reputation and the credibility of the governance of the SAR Government. Furthermore, there were long press reports on February 23 that CE had rented a penthouse at Futian District in Shenzhen as residence after his departure from office, triggering concerns about suspected transfer of benefits. As the credibility of governance of the SAR Government will be affected by the aforesaid matters, will the Government immediately inform this Council:
(a) whether the persons extending the offer of the aforesaid entertainment and the accompanying persons have official dealings with the Government; if they have, of the details; whether it knows when and where they provided the entertainment as well as the arrangements for transport, meals, accommodation, entertainment activities, security, etc.; whether the amounts of payments required to be paid by participants for such items were set by the persons who extended the offer, and of the market prices of the aforesaid entertainment; and
(b) whether the owner of the aforesaid penthouse has official dealings with the Government; if so, of the details; whether it knows the date on which the tenancy of the penthouse was entered, as well as the length and rental of the tenancy; the channel through which the penthouse was leased out and the renovation expenses paid by the owner?
In response to recent reports about the Chief Executive (CE) accepting hospitality offered by his friends and the related discussions in the community, the CE has explained to the public by personally attending a radio programme and by issuing a press release via the CE's Office on February 26 (Sunday). To uphold accountability to the community and the spirit of transparency, the CE has agreed to attend a special Question and Answer session in the afternoon of March 1 (Thursday), where he stands ready to address Members' questions on the events.
Before answering the question from Member, the Administration would like to give accounts on behalf of the CE.
First, the CE thanked the media for the reports and Members' questions, which shed light on and allow him to better understand that public servants must be "whiter than white". The CE has reflected deeply over the recent events again and again, and come to the conclusion that there is a gap between the current rules, with which he has faithfully complied, and the expectations of Hong Kong people. In consequence, there has been disappointment from the community. Noting the view of some sectors of the community that he should not have any association with people who might be considered "wealthy" or "rich", the CE wishes that the public can understand he has to get a full picture of what is happening in the community. Hence, he has been maintaining contact with people from all walks of life, including the grassroots, the middle class and people from different economic sectors. The CE realises from the events that there are rooms for greater vigilance and sensitivity in his handling of the relevant trips.
The CE has set up a five-man Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests, which will be chaired by the former Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal, the Honourable Andrew Li Kwok-nang. The Committee will review the existing regulatory frameworks and procedures for the prevention and handling of potential conflicts of interests (including the arrangements for declaration of investments/interests and acceptance of advantage/entertainment/hospitality) concerning the CE, Non-Official Members of the Executive Council and Officials under the Political Appointment System, and make recommendations on improvement measures. The Committee will submit a report with recommendations to the CE in around three months' time.
Details regarding the CE and his wife's travels involving private passages, the donations made to charitable institutions with all the proceeds from selling private wine collections and the rental residence in Shenzhen are set out in the Annex.
The Administration's reply to the question raised by Hon Cyd Ho is as follows:
Detailed information of the four travels mentioned in the question is set out at Part A of Annex. The travelling expenses were calculated and paid according to internal rules. As for meals and entertainment, the CE was on vacation with friends and the amount each participant had to share was not specifically calculated. The security of the CE during vacation was provided in accordance with the Government's policy. As for the identity of accompanying friends, since it involves the privacy of individual persons, details cannot be provided.
The date on which the tenancy of the flat in Shenzhen was entered, its tenure and rental are set out at Part C of Annex. The tenancy was made directly between the CE and the owner. The owner is fully responsible for the conversion works, including determining the scope of renovation and expenses. The CE has no idea about the specific amount involved.
Some of the persons taking part in the four activities with the CE and the owner of CE's rented apartment in Shenzhen have official dealings with the Government to a different degree involving different nature of business. However, the CE stressed that he had accepted the offer of private passages on the premise that the invitations involved no conflict of interest, and that he had calculated and paid the relevant costs in strict accordance with the internal rules. The rental of the property at Shenzhen was also at market rate without any concession. The CE reiterated that he has never acted against the law nor breached internal rules.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012