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LC Urgent Q1: Acceptance of passage and discounts by public officers

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan Wai-yip 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 21, the Chief Executive (CE) stayed overnight on board a super-yacht of a tycoon and returned to Hong Kong on it, and on February 9, he travelled with more than 10 business celebrities to Phuket in Thailand for holiday and back to Hong Kong in a private jet provided by a tycoon and rented a penthouse in Shenzhen with a market value of HK$61.5 million from another tycoon as his residence after his departure from office. In response to the aforesaid reports, CE responded that he had made payments to the super-yacht owner for using the super-yacht and also to the tycoon for using the private jet equivalent to the Hong Kong-Macao ferry fares and air fares, and that he paid market rent for the aforesaid flat. Given that quite a number of members of the public and civil servants are deeply perplexed by the behaviour of CE in travelling on super-yacht and private jets provided by tycoons as well as renting a penthouse, and they are worried that there may have been transfer of benefits, will the Government, in order to address the concerns of the public and those of more than 160 000 civil servants, inform this Council:

(a) whether acceptance by public officers of tycoons' invitation to travel on super-yachts and private jets is considered to be accepting an advantage under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance; if so, whether public officers making payments equivalent to the fares for similar journeys travelled via public transport constitutes reasonable excuse;

(b) whether there is any law prohibiting public officers from receiving discounts in renting or purchasing flats from persons with whom they have official dealings, and whether such law is applicable to CE; and

(c) given that the existing general principles made by the Civil Service Bureau state that a civil servant "must not engage in activities or behaviour which may bring into question the impartiality of the Civil Service or bring the Service into disrepute", whether CE has to observe such principles; if not, of the reasons why the civil servants are still required to observe such principles?


Mr President,

     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 Albert Chan Wai-yip is as follows:

(a) Travelling on a friend's private jet or yacht to and from Hong Kong and various destinations may involve the acceptance of an advantage, as under Section 3 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (the Ordinance), and a public officer must not accept advantages without the permission of the Chief Executive (CE). Since Section 3 of the Ordinance does not apply 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.

(b) If a public officer receives a concession in renting or purchasing a flat from a person having official dealings with the Government, it may involve an acceptance of advantages.  Such acts are under the regulation of the Ordinance, but are not strictly prohibited. Under certain circumstances, the officer may also contravene the common law offence of misconduct in public office. The relevant provisions under Sections 4 and 10 of the Ordinance and the common law also apply to the CE.

     The report quoted by Hon Chan in his question that the CE had rented a residential flat in Shenzhen at a rent lower than the market value is inaccurate. The CE has rented the flat at the market value and has not received any concession.

(c) As the CE is not a civil servant, the general principles governing the conduct of the civil servants are not applicable to him. However, the CE observes the relevant provisions of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System on a voluntary basis. Under Chapter 5 of the Code, a politically appointed official shall not accept entertainment from any person if the entertainment is likely, for example by reason of its excessive nature, or of the relationship between the official and the other person, or of the character of that person:

(i) to lead to embarrassment of the politically appointed official in the discharge of his functions; or

(ii) to bring the politically appointed official or the public service into disrepute.

Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:44


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