Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (February 29):
In response to media enquiries, the Chief Executive (CE) admitted that he had travelled to and from Macao on yachts twice and also by private jets twice for round trips to Thailand and Japan, and he had made payments equivalent to economy and business class airfares respectively (i.e. several thousand dollars and several tens of thousand dollars), and such payments were far lower than the amounts needed for hiring a plane for round trips to the two places. It has been learnt that the trips on private jets were arranged by the Chairman of The Cross-Harbour (Holdings) Limited (the Company), which holds an interest in the Western Harbour Tunnel and also has multiple connections with the policies handled by CE. Besides, during CE's recent return trip from Macao on a yacht, his duties were not undertaken by any officer in acting capacity. The spokesman of the Office of the Chief Executive explained that "CE can return to Hong Kong within a few hours upon departure, so it is not necessary to make any acting appointment." In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the mechanism for determining the amounts of payments required for the aforesaid entertainment; the actual amounts calculated according to such mechanism; whether it has a mechanism for assisting CE, when he considers whether or not to accept entertainment, in assessing whether the acceptance of the entertainment will involve any conflict of interest; if it has, of the details of the mechanism and the person who makes the assessment; whether the mechanism was used in the aforesaid incidents; if not, whether it will consider setting up such a mechanism immediately;
(b) given that at present, entertainment accepted by CE is not required to be declared, whether the Government will immediately amend the existing mechanism to increase its transparency, and state whether public officers have to make declarations regarding the advantages they accepted while on leave, so as to address public concerns; and
(c) whether the practice of not arranging acting arrangement for CE's leave is consistent with the existing acting arrangements for civil servants or officials under the accountability system; whether CE when he is on leave with no acting arrangement made still has the capacity as CE and should still be regarded as carrying an official capacity during the period; if so, whether CE is still subject to the regulation by the laws and requirements relating to public officers during the said period?
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 the Hon. Alan Leong is as follows:
(a) and (b) Generally speaking, accepting a friend's invitation to make an overseas journey on his or her private jet or yacht may already constitute the acceptance of advantages under Chapter 5 of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System. As required by the rules, it is then necessary to seek the approval of the Chief Executive (CE). However, since there is operational constraint in imposing the same restriction on the CE, the CE has instead laid down internal regulations, which set out that when no conflict of interests is involved, the CE may consider accepting a friend's invitation to travel out of and return to Hong Kong on his or her private jet or yacht while on private holiday, provided that the CE pays the fare of the same journey on public transport to show that the CE has not saved any travelling expense by accepting the invitation. This rule applies to three of the four trips mentioned in the question. The private jet that the CE boarded for his trip to Japan was hired from a commercial company by a fellow passenger and the expenses were shared by the CE with his fellow passengers.
In response to recent social concerns, the CE has set up the Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests. The review committee will look into, among other things, the arrangements governing the CE's acceptance of advantages and entertainment.
(c) While the CE is out of Hong Kong for duty visit or on vacation, so long as he is able to return to Hong Kong and perform his role within a short span of time when the situation so requires, it is not necessary to make any acting arrangement. This practice also applies to principal officials and civil servants.
While on vacation and in the absence of any acting arrangement, the CE may attend private social functions in his personal capacity. He may also perform functions in his official capacity when necessary, and under such circumstance, he will be subject to applicable laws and regulations.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012