Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (November 28):
On the day after assumption of office, the Chief Executive (CE) indicated that the Government hoped to achieve the goal of "zero food waste" eventually. The Secretary for the Environment has also said that the Government will "actively support reduction of food waste". It has been reported that CE's wife has set up a company in the middle of this month to promote the reduction of food waste. According to its proposal, the company will deploy manpower resources to undertake such work as food distribution, public education and research, etc., and it plans to collaborate with various organisations in its work, lobby the Government to introduce legislation in this regard and solicit funds from the business sector. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) according to the current requirements on declaration of interests, whether CE is required to declare the companies set up by his spouse which are directly related to the policies actively promoted by the Government; if such declarations are required, of the details and whether such declarations are available for public inspection; if such declarations are not required, of the reasons for that;
(b) whether it has assessed if it will give rise to perceived or real conflict of interests when on the one hand the Government actively promotes the policy of food waste reduction and, on the other hand, CE's wife has set up a company engaged in food waste treatment; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment result is in the negative, the reasons for that; and
(c) whether the operation of companies by the spouses and immediate family members of CE and politically appointed officials (PAOs) as well as their acceptance of government subsidies or donations from the business sector through such companies are subject to regulation by existing legislation or codes for CE and PAOs on prevention of conflict of interests; if so, whether it has assessed if the aforesaid case violates the relevant requirements; if such regulation is not in place, whether the Government has considered expanding the scope of the relevant legislation or codes to cover the aforesaid situation to prevent conflict of interests?
In consultation with the Chief Executive (CE)'s Office and the Environment Bureau (ENB), I am authorised to respond to Member's question on behalf of the Administration as follows:
(a) As the President of the Executive Council (ExCo), the CE declared his registrable interests in accordance with the arrangements applicable to ExCo Members. Under the requirements of the existing ExCo declaration mechanism, if the Member himself, or with or on behalf of his spouse or children, holds a beneficial interest in shareholdings of companies (both listed and unlisted ones) or other bodies, and the nominal value of the shareholdings is greater than one per cent of the issued share capital, the Member has to declare, to his knowledge, the names of the companies and bodies concerned.
Although the CE is himself not a politically appointed official (PAO) and hence not subject to the requirements of the Code for Officials Under the Political Appointment System (the PAO Code), he declared his financial and other interests in accordance with the arrangements applicable to the PAOs under the PAO Code. The current declaration system under the PAO Code requires PAOs of all ranks to declare their investment, shareholding or direct or indirect interest in any company; their directorships, proprietorships or partnerships in any company; and, if any, the specific details concerning their participation in any private company's affairs. They are also required to declare any investment and interest held by himself/herself or in the name of his/her spouse, children or other persons, agents or companies, but are actually acquired on his/her account or in which he/she has a beneficial interest. The open parts of their declarations, which cover the names and occupations of the PAOs' spouses, are placed on the websites of their respective offices/bureaux for public inspection.
The CE's declarations in respect of the above two arrangements have been uploaded to the website of the CE's Office for public inspection.
(b) According to the information provided by ENB, some 9,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste disposed of in Hong Kong's landfills everyday, around 40 per cent is food waste. The Administration's key strategy in this area is to avoid and reduce the production of food waste. The unavoidable food waste will be retrieved and recycled as far as possible. Over the years, relevant policy bureaux endeavoured to elaborate to the general public the Administration's food waste strategy through papers issued to the Legislative Council and the website of the Environmental Protection Department. Through educational and promotional activities, as well as efforts on various fronts, the Administration also raised the public's awareness and promoted food waste avoidance and reduction among the public and relevant industries.
There have always been various organisations in the community participating in food waste avoidance and reduction. Support and co-operation of the general public, as well as echo and participation from more sectors of the community, are essential to the proper treatment of food waste and relevant work in the area. The Administration therefore welcomes more individuals and organisations in the community to help reduce food waste and turn the unavoidable food waste into useful resources.
The CE and the CE's Office have not participated in Mrs Regina Leung's activities related to food waste recycling. The CE's Office understands from Mrs Leung that "Food for Good" project is non-profit-making in nature and aims to contribute to environmental sustainability through establishing a platform to promote food waste recycling and waste reduction at source in Hong Kong. The project also proposes to donate the food it receives to the needy persons in the society. The "Food for Good" project hopes to bring together people of similar views to advocate for food waste recycling at various levels including the community, the catering industry, residential estates and schools. The ultimate objective of this project is to promote the message of treasuring food and to promote the proper attitude in handling food waste in the community.
According to our understanding, "Food for Good" was incorporated in November this year, but has yet to proceed to commence operation. Mrs Leung is one of the founding members of the project. After the project is formally launched, she will resign the directorship and take up an honourary post. The project is non-profit-making in nature. Mrs Leung will not obtain any economic benefits from the project.
(c) As mentioned in part (a) of my reply, the CE will, in accordance with the arrangements applicable to PAOs under the PAO Code, make declarations on the relevant information and avoid cases of conflict of interest.
Apart from the offence of bribery under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (Cap. 201), it will be an offence of misconduct in public office under the common law if a prescribed officer (including the CE and PAOs, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, commits serious misconduct while carrying out official or official-related duties. The provisions relating to bribery in the Ordinance which are applicable to everyone, are also applicable to the CE, PAOs and their spouses and immediate family. For example, section 2(2) of the Ordinance stipulates that a person solicits or accepts directly or indirectly an advantage no matter whether the relevant acts are performed by the person concerned or any other person acting on his behalf. Section 4(1) provides that any person who, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, offers any advantage to a public servant as an inducements to or reward for or otherwise on account of that public servant's acts as prescribed in the relevant provisions, shall be guilty of an offence.
It is understood that Mrs Leung wishes to play a part in environmental protection through promoting the "Food for Good" project. As a member of the community, Mrs Leung wishes to contribute to Hong Kong. The project is non-profit-making in nature and she will not obtain any economic benefits from the project. It is believed that there would not be a question of conflict of interest.
Ends/Wednesday, November 28, 2012