Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che 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):
It has been reported that on February 18 this year, the Chief Executive (CE) visited Macao on invitation to attend a spring gathering held in a hotel by a casino VIP club, and the guests attending the gathering included "a group of gambling club operators, members of loan-sharking syndicates, night-club personnel and many heavyweights of dubious background". Moreover, the CE indicated that during his term of office, he travelled to and from Macao on private yachts twice and visited Phuket in Thailand and Japan by private jets twice respectively, and that he had already paid the expenses of amounts equivalent to the fares of public transport in accordance with the "internal codes of the Government". According to section 5.10 of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System, a politically appointed official shall not accept entertainment if it is of excessive nature or the persons present are of questionable character, so as to avoid embarrassment or being brought into disrepute. To immediately address public concerns, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the details of the aforesaid "internal codes of the Government" (including whether travelling on private yachts or private jets is regarded as accepting a passage or accepting entertainment);
(b) whether it has assessed the impact of accepting similar entertainment by public officers on the public's perception of the Government and public officers; if not, whether it will make an assessment immediately; and
(c) whether the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System is applicable to the CE; whether acceptance of similar entertainment by public officers is in breach of the Code; whether there are any other codes regulating the CE's acceptance of entertainment; if not, whether it will formulate the codes immediately?
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 Hon Cheung Kwok-che's question is as follows:
(a) and (c) Chapter 5 of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System (the Code) sets out the mechanism and the relevant rules of preventing and handling conflict of interests. The CE, though not a politically appointed official, voluntary observes the Code (except in cases where there is no officer at a higher rank from whom he can seek approval). Such codes are what the CE referred to as "internal codes of the Government". As Section 3 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance is not applicable to the CE, the CE has formulated internal rules to govern his acceptance of transport services on his friends' private jets or yachts by stipulating that when no conflict of interests is involved, the CE may consider accepting a friend's invitation, provided that the CE pays to his friends the fare of the same journey on public transport to show that he has not saved any travelling expense by accepting the invitation.
The CE has set up the "Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests", which will review the mechanism as a whole and come up with recommendations.
(b) The CE has indicated that upon reflection, he has come to realise that public expectations on the CE have become higher as times change. There is a gap between the current system, with which he has faithfully complied, and the expectations of Hong Kong people, and the system needs to be reviewed and improved.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012