Exemption for Tsang 'totally inappropriate'
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen would have been open to prosecution for accepting favours from tycoons under a law proposed by an independent committee he set up to 'rewrite the rule book' for the city's top job.
The committee, led by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, released the results of its three-month study yesterday, saying the chief executive should regard himself as the 'chief servant of the people' and describing his exemption from rules covering all other political appointees as 'totally inappropriate'.
Tsang created the committee in March after he was embroiled in a series of scandals over luxury travel provided by tycoon friends and a bargain deal to rent a penthouse in Shenzhen when he leaves office. He announced its formation in an exclusive article for the Sunday Morning Post entitled 'It's time to rewrite the rule book', in which he acknowledged that he had failed to live up to public expectations.
Leung Chun-ying, who will succeed Tsang as chief executive at the end of this month, pledged to implement the committee's recommendations as soon as possible, while Tsang's office welcomed them.
Li's committee proposed making it a criminal offence for the chief executive to solicit or accept any advantage without the permission of a statutory independent committee. Offering such an advantage to the chief executive without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse would also be an offence. The chief executive must follow rules at least as strict as those for political appointees and top civil servants, it says.
'It would be a criminal offence for the chief executive to accept any advantage, including any gift, hotel accommodation, any purchase or rental of premises at an undervalued price, any passage, whether on a commercial airline, private jet or private yacht, without the permission of the committee,' Li said. 'We advise the chief executive to follow the maxim 'if in doubt, don't'.'
The maximum penalty would be one year's imprisonment and a fine of HK$100,000.
The proposal would in effect extend section 3 and section 8 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance to cover the chief executive, a suggestion rejected by Tsang's government when it amended the law in 2008.
'The present system is totally inappropriate and has a fundamental defect that it exempts the chief executive from the strict regime applied to politically appointed officials and civil servants,' Li said, adding the chief executive should not be above the law. Asked if Tsang had set a bad example, Li did not comment, saying improving the system was the key.
Tsang said he had followed an 'internal rule' when accepting advantages, including reimbursing anyone who provided him with transport on a yacht or jet with the price of an economy-class ticket.
But Li criticised the Chief Executive's Office for failing to provide records of the 'internal rule' to the committee, saying: 'The absence of documentation on such a matter is not consistent with the proper conduct of public administration.'
The internal committee - made up of three people with no political affiliation appointed by the chief justice and Legislative Council president - would grant general permission for the chief executive to receive gifts of up to HK$400, or HK$1,000 for events at which he was guest of honour. He could also attend events with his spouse, up to a value of HK$2,000 per head, with permission. All gifts would be recorded in a register which would be open to the public.