Ombudsman says inquiry into husband's department is 'just another investigation'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 July, 1999, 12:00am

Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying yesterday launched an investigation into her husband's government department, but insists she will not be doing him any favours.

Ms Tai - who had previously adopted a hands-off approach to probes into the Transport Department headed by husband Robert Footman - refused to say whether she and the former post office boss had agreed not to speak about the investigation at home.

'We have better things to do and talk about after work,' the former judiciary administrator said.

The probe - sparked by a series of recent explosions involving container loads of used motorcycles - will scrutinise transport, fire and marine regulations for the import, export, storage and movement of the bikes.

It is the first investigation initiated by Ms Tai's department since she took over from outspoken Andrew So Kwok-wing.

She said the probe was expected to take six months and did not rule out the possibility of having to take a back seat if conflicts of interest arose.

'As far as I am concerned it is just another investigation into another government department,' Ms Tai said yesterday.

'This is not acting on a complaint - in fact I am complaining. This is my initiative, so at this point in time there is no need whatsoever for me not to continue to take an active interest.

'If, of course, in the course of the investigation there comes a point where there is a need to avoid my involvement, the necessary steps would be taken.' Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun urged Ms Tai to stay away from the investigation.

'The whole ombudsman system must not only be perfectly credible but it must be seen to be so. This is a very odd and politically insensitive decision,' he said.

In April, Ms Tai distanced herself from an investigation into alleged maladministration by her husband's department over new ferry services.

Asked whether the links could hit public confidence in her office's impartiality, Ms Tai said: 'I think people will judge by actions not by perceptions.' She was unveiling the Ombudsman's 11th annual report, which saw a 34 per cent rise in complaints. Most were against the Housing Department, as in past years.

She said the overall rise was due to a combination of higher public expectations and knowledge of channels of complaint.