Official trips cost HK$24m
Top government officials have run up bills of more than HK$24 million for business trips in the last five years.
The figure emerged as the Audit Commission prepares to release its verdict on whether the chief executive should be allowed to stay in luxury hotel suites.
The commission reviewed the mechanism for booking overseas travel by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen after it was revealed he spent almost US$7,000 on a one-night stay in the presidential suite at a hotel in the Brazilian capital Brasilia. It is due to release its report today.
Figures revealed yesterday in response to questions from lawmakers show that Tsang ran up a travel bill of almost HK$10.7 million between the start of his second term in July 2007 and January this year.
The outgoing chief executive was not the government's only frequent flyer. In response to another question from a lawmaker, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau revealed bureau chiefs, their undersecretaries and political assistants spent HK$13.3 million on travel abroad.
The travel bills of the chief secretary, financial secretary and secretary for justice were not requested by lawmakers, but a spokeswoman for justice chief Wong Yan-lung said he had spent HK$717,536 on 23 trips.
Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung's spokesman said he had made four trips since taking office in September. A spokesman for the financial secretary would not comment.
The most frequent traveller was environment minister Edward Yau Tang-wah, who made 60 trips to 18 countries on five continents at a cost of HK$1.82 million, an average of HK$30,270 per trip.
His political assistant, Linda Choy Siu-min, spent HK$937,099 of taxpayers' money on 21 trips, the most of any political assistant and more than eight of the 12 bureau chiefs.
A spokeswoman for Yau's office said he had attended conferences and liaised with mainland authorities, while Choy attended conferences with him and travelled on her own to 'represent the administration in international meetings'.
Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing also made 60 journeys, but as many of his visits were to the mainland, his bill came to just HK$702,913.
The biggest spender was Financial Services Secretary Professor Chan Ka-keung. His 43 visits ran up a bill of HK$1.95 million, an average of HK$45,233 per trip. A spokeswoman for his office said the trips promoted the city's role as a financial centre.
'We have strictly followed the regulations for approval,' she said. 'We have achieved good results through these trips to Indonesia and Russia to attract foreign investments.'
In a written response to lawmakers' questions, the administration said overseas travel plans were discussed and approved by a committee chaired by the chief secretary.
The code of conduct for political appointees also sets out guidelines.
Tsang was criticised last month for spending 23 times the daily subsistence allowance for civil servants visiting Brazil - 557 Brazilian reals (HK$2,300) - on his stay at the Royal Tulip Brasilia Alvorada hotel.