Sorry for scandal, ex-minister says
Jolie Ho and Tanna Chong
Former development minister Mak Chai-kwong apologised to the government and the public yesterday for the inconvenience his housing allowance scandal had caused and asked for peace to handle the matter - which may yet end up in court.
Mak also thanked Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for her support, after she was criticised for expressing 'full confidence' in him just days before his arrest on Thursday by the Independent Commission Against Corruption for abusing housing perks in the 1980s.
His comments yesterday were his first in public since his 40-hour grilling by graft-busters, which ended with his release just before midnight on Friday.
No charges have yet been brought against anyone involved in the case. Mak's wife, along with assistant director of highways Tsang King-man and his wife, were also detained.
'My resignation will definitely affect the new government which has just assumed office,' Mak said at government headquarters in Admiralty.
'Because of the inconvenience caused by this matter, I apologise to the chief executive, chief secretary for administration, civil servants and Hong Kong citizens.'
Mak has been under pressure for days over the revelation that he and Tsang bought identical flats in the same North Point block, then rented them to each other so each could claim a rent allowance - a practice known as cross-leasing.
He said he hoped his resignation on Thursday would help overcome public dissatisfaction with the government of Leung Chun-ying.
Mak refused to take questions from journalists because of possible legal proceedings, and asked the media to leave his family alone to deal with the issue.
He promised to help the ICAC's investigation to ensure that the details of the matter were made clear.
A civil servant for 37 years before his retirement in 2010, Mak said: 'I also sincerely hope that, once this incident is over, I can go on serving the public.' At 12 days, Mak's time in office is the shortest ever for the head of a policymaking bureau.
Mak worked his way up through the civil service after joining the government as an engineer and was permanent secretary for development at the time of his retirement.
He, Tsang and their wives were arrested on suspicion of violating the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance in relation to the pair's claim for government housing allowance for letting each other their flats in City Garden, North Point, for more than two years. Under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, it is an offence for any employee, including a public servant, to use any receipt, account or other documents to deceive or mislead his employer.
The maximum penalty is a fine of HK$500,000 and seven years in jail.
Both men could also lose their pensions if charged and found guilty.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said Mak's words yesterday might help the government.
'His remarks could relieve the mounting pressure on Carrie Lam, [by] creating the impression that Lam is a person who values comradeship,' Choy said.
'Mak's performance was just right, as he did not show much grievance during the speech,' Choy said.
Still, he said they would not defuse the political crisis now facing the government.
He added that the emphasis would now be on Leung's first question-and-answer session as chief executive in the Legislative Council tomorrow.