Lost cause

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 February, 1999, 12:00am

There is a danger of expectations being raised unrealistically by all the publicity surrounding the prospects for more than a million dollars in gratuity payments being reclaimed from former Airport Authority executives Dr Hank Townsend and Douglas Oakervee.

At issue is not whether they deserve to be deprived of their bonuses. Given all the revelations of mismanagement in the recent reports on the causes of the Chek Lap Kok opening chaos, there can be little doubt on that point.

Rather the question is one of whether there is any legal and practical means of reclaiming the money they have been paid. Although it has been widely portrayed in more dramatic terms, all the authority has done is to ask its lawyers to examine the employment contracts of these two individuals to see if there is any action which can be taken.

Given that the bonuses were not performance-related and have already been paid out, the answer will almost certainly be 'no'. Indeed the issue has already been examined by the Legislative Council Select Committee, which took counsel's advice and reluctantly concluded there was no legal means of reclaiming these gratuities.

Rather than pursue a wild goose-chase, it would be better to focus on the two heavily-criticised executives still with the authority, management director Chern Heed and information technology director Kiron Chatterjee. Withholding their bonuses would be far more feasible than seeking to reclaim gratuities from those who already have them and are now overseas.

Above all, employment contracts must be rewritten to ensure that, in future, all bonuses are closely linked to performance.