Absentee officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2000, 12:00am

THERE are a few tested tricks that a prying media can always use to get a good scoop. One is to obtain the names of members of some of the Government's 350 advisory committees and check how some people sit on several such bodies but don't bother to show up for meetings.

Getting the information can be a tedious business, because information officers usually try not to provide straight answers. Some will even try to fudge the data to make most, if not all, members of a committee look good, such as releasing average attendance rates. Concerned that some members will be embarrassed if their poor attendance is made public, some institutions even refuse to release such information on the grounds of privacy, as was the case with one university last year. Only after the fallacy of the argument - that attendance records are private information - was ridiculed did the university reluctantly agree to disclose in the future how many meetings its council members attended, but it would not reveal records of past meetings.

Since then, the Government has laid down a rule that attendance records of all advisory committees must be released on request. This is the least that a Government that claims to promote transparency, but has refused demands to have the committees meet in public, should do. It allows the media and the public to monitor whether the supposedly civic-minded men and women appointed to those august bodies really take their jobs seriously. It is sometimes argued that committee members can make a contribution without attending meetings, because they can read papers at home and submit their views in writing. But the argument then begs a question: why do meetings have to be convened? The Housing Authority is one of a few statutory bodies that has made it an annual exercise to release its members' attendance records. Last week, it was revealed that Kenneth Tang Nai-yan, Citibank's group treasurer and a member of the authority's finance committee, did not attend any meetings. There were other frequent absentees, though none as irresponsible as Mr Tang.

If Mr Tang is serious about his appointment, he has not shown it. If he could not make time for any of the committee's meetings in one whole year, he should have resigned. He didn't. Now it is imperative that he be dismissed.