Following is a question by the Hon Lee Cheuk-yan 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 the Chief Executive (CE) has repeatedly accepted extravagant entertainment and he had rented a luxurious apartment at Futian District in Shenzhen as residence after his departure from office, paying a rental below the market rate. Given that the reports have aroused suspicion among some members of the public on the conduct of CE, in order to address public concerns, will the Government immediately inform this Council:
(a) whether acceptance of similar entertainment and renting luxurious apartments constitute "interests" referred to in Chapter 5 of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System;
(b) whether, during meetings of the Executive Council at which items relating to businesses operated by the aforesaid tycoons or property owner were discussed, any person attending such meetings had made any declaration (including whether such person has accounted for his personal friendship with the aforesaid tycoons or property owner, his acceptance of entertainment offered by them, or his intention of renting their properties); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) whether measures are in place to prevent CE from handling matters with real or potential conflicts of interest, including acceptance of deferred benefits; if not, whether the Government can formulate such measures 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 Hon Lee Cheuk-yan's question is as follows:
(a) Provision of private jet or yacht for travelling to and from Hong Kong and various destinations may involve an advantage under the law. Under Chapter 5 of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System, a politically appointed official must not accept advantages without the permission of the CE. Since there is operational limitation if this requirement is to be applied to the CE, the CE has drawn up internal rules governing his acceptance of travelling on a friend's private jet or yacht. According to these rules, the CE may consider accepting such an invitation on condition that there is no conflict of interest, but he has to pay the fares for the same journey on public transport to show that he has not saved any travelling expenses by accepting the invitation.
Regarding the apartment rented by the CE in Shenzhen, since the rent is set at market rate it should not constitute "interests" or "advantages" referred to in Chapter 5.
(b) Normal social contacts with friends, including the acceptance of entertainment from friends, are not required to be declared at the Executive Council. When the Executive Council discussed the issues of the licence of the Digital Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), the CE had not associated his future accommodation plan in Shenzhen with one of the shareholders of DBC, hence he had not made declaration at the Executive Council meetings. The application for licence and other related matters submitted by the DBC was processed in strict accordance with statutory procedures. The decisions by the CE in Council were made on the basis of and in line with the recommendations of the Broadcasting Authority (BA), which is an independent and statutory body established by the Government.
(c) The CE has always attached great importance to the prevention and handling of conflict of interest. Relevant work has been done in the following three aspects:
(i) From the legal aspect, the CE is prohibited from offering or accepting bribes under the common law offence of bribery. The Prevention of Bribery Ordinance amended in 2008 has also extended some provisions to cover the CE, and imposes restrictions on the CE in respect of any bribery acts of solicitation and acceptance of advantage and possession of unexplained property. In addition, under Article 47 of the Basic Law, the Chief Executive must be a person of integrity and shall declare his assets to the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal.
(ii) From the system aspect, though the CE is not a politically appointed official, he voluntarily observes the relevant provisions of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System and declares his registrable investment and interests in accordance with the requirements of the Annual Declaration of Registrable Interests of Members of the Executive Council, which is available at the Executive Council's website. As for the post-office employment arrangement, the CE has also set up the Advisory Committee on Post-office Employment for Former Chief Executives and Politically Appointed Officials, comprising members of the community, to draw up principles and criteria and to offer advice.
(iii) From the monitoring aspect, members of the public, the media and Legislative Council members can monitor CE through the above legal measures and established systems.
With regard to the recent public concern over the acceptance of entertainment by CE, the CE has set up the "Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests" to review the regulatory frameworks and procedures, and to make recommendations.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012