Welfare chief offers to pay flight cash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 1998, 12:00am

The Social Welfare Director has offered to pay back about $15,000 after he flew first class to London rather than travel direct to a conference in Israel.

Andrew Leung Kin-pong said yesterday he had volunteered to pay the difference of $15,459 in view of the public concern over his decision to fly to London for a stopover before travelling to the conference at a total cost of about $70,000.

Mr Leung, who submitted an account of the trip to the Civil Service Bureau last Thursday, said: 'The guidelines are not clear on the arrangements for civil servants taking holidays when they are having overseas trips. There are no precedents.

'I didn't have any evil intentions,' he said.

The controversy erupted when it emerged that Mr Leung had chosen to fly British Airways first class to London on Wednesday, July 1, and stop over for two days before flying on to Tel Aviv. The conference ran from Sunday July 5 until July 9.

Mr Leung said the two direct flights by El Al were not convenient. A direct ticket would have cost about half the price.

Secretary for Civil Service Lam Woon-kwong said yesterday that Mr Leung was not entitled to travel first class for the two journeys as he did not start work immediately after travelling from Hong Kong.

However, this was not clearly explained in the guidelines, Mr Lam admitted.

'Civil servants, particularly senior ones, should set an example when the economy is gloomy. They should operate cost effectively and maximise the use of resources,' he said.

The guidelines say that D6 officials such as Mr Leung can only travel first class if the flying time is more than six hours.

The flight to Tel Aviv from London takes four hours.

Mr Lam said his bureau would try to clear up the grey areas. He said civil servants were required to check with five travel agents to obtain the lowest price if the fare exceeded $20,000. This rule was not in effect when Mr Leung booked the ticket.