Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse Wai-chun 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 the Chief Executive (CE) accepted tycoons' invitation to travel on private jets and paid the costs at market prices, and in renting a luxurious apartment in Shenzhen, he was alleged to have obtained concessions such as a rental below the market rate and a waiver of the renovation expenses in excess of 10 million dollars. The public and the media query the integrity and conduct of CE, and they also have concern about the number of similar incidents of suspected unreasonable acceptance of entertainment and concessions which have yet to be uncovered. The public have expressed their discontent by joining several demonstrations and processions, and the incident has been extensively covered by overseas media, causing a serious blow to the credibility of the governance of the SAR Government. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the system put in place by the Office of the Chief Executive to keep records of various entertainment or concessions received by CE (including the means of and information used for assessing the market prices); the mechanism in place to enable the public to check such records; if no system or mechanism is in place, whether it will set it up immediately;
(b) given that after the passage of the Prevention of Bribery (Amendments) Ordinance 2008 in July 2008, CE comes within the remit of the provisions in the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance which prohibit public officers from soliciting and accepting advantages, under what circumstances the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will take the initiative to investigate CE and other public officers accepting discounts and extravagant entertainment; whether there are now such circumstances; if so, whether it will launch an investigation immediately; and
(c) given that a press report has queried the independence of the Commissioner of ICAC as CE was suspected to have "given special treatment" to the incumbent Commissioner by giving him a further appointment of three years without announcing the reason for the further appointment, whether the Government will immediately adopt the recommendation made by some academics of setting up an independent committee with members drawn from ICAC and the Audit Commission to comprehensively review the code of ethics and conduct for CE?
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 Paul Tse Wai-chun is as follows:
(a) The Register of Official Gifts Presented to the CE was accessible on the website of the Office of the CE, though it does not include information about entertainment and hospitality. The CE has set up the "Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests" to review the existing regulatory frameworks and procedures for the prevention and handling of potential conflicts of interests concerning the CE, Non-Official Members of the Executive Council, and Officials under the Political Appointment System, including the arrangements for declaration of investments/interests and acceptance of advantage/entertainment/hospitality.
(b) As amended in 2008, sections 4, 5 and 10 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance are now applicable to the CE. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), upon receipt of sufficient information that justifies follow-up action, will investigate impartially and independently in full accordance with the law a corruption offence alleged to have been committed by any person. All investigations will be conducted in confidence. ICAC will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice if necessary. All the results of investigations concluded by ICAC will be reported to the independent Operations Review Committee (ORC) and subject to the monitoring of ORC.
(c) The Commissioner of ICAC (the Commissioner) is required to discharge his duties in full accordance with the law. The independence of the Commissioner and ICAC is clearly spelt out under the Basic Law and the Independent Commission Against Corruption Ordinance. All the results of investigations concluded by ICAC will be reported to the independent ORC and subject to its monitoring. ORC comprises distinguished non-officials and is tasked to ensure that all corruption complaints are handled properly.
The CE has set up the Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests to review the existing regulatory frameworks and procedures for the prevention and handling of potential conflicts of interests concerning the CE, Non-Official Members of the Executive Council, and Officials under the Political Appointment System.
Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012