Science body's ex-chief a burden, says official

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am

The board of an embattled government-funded research institute accepted the resignation of its chief executive because he was considered a burden to the institute's reform, a senior government official and board member said yesterday.

Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Francis Ho Suen-wai also conceded that the board of the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute might have been rash in agreeing to extend the contract of Robert Yang Jih-chang last month since it knew that the Audit Commission was about to issue a highly critical report on the institute's management.

The board agreed in early March to extend the chief executive's contract, subject to negotiations on terms and conditions. Dr Yang quit with immediate effect on Tuesday, days after the release of the audit report.

Speaking to the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee yesterday, Mr Ho said wide publicity given to the report had damaged the reputation and credibility of both the institute and Dr Yang, causing them to lose the faith and support of industry and staff. '[The institute] needs to move forward, and if Dr Yang had stayed I believe it would have created a burden for the institute's future development,' he said.

Admitting that the board knew of the report's preliminary findings when it decided to extend the contract, he asked: 'Could we make a decision on whether someone should go or stay with an audit report which was still only a draft at the time? Of course, when we now look back, we may ask why the decision was made in such a rash manner.'

His admission only triggered more criticism from legislators.

'You said [Dr Yang] was a burden and his credibility was damaged by the audit report, but you were absent from 10 meetings in a row. Are you not a burden?' asked Mandy Tam Heung-man, the accountancy sector representative.

As for the report's references to his absences, Mr Ho said: 'From 2002 to 2006 there were 22 board meetings and I attended 20 of them, equivalent to an attendance rate of 90 per cent. For the other two, I assigned an alternate director to replace me.' The 10 meetings he missed were of a technology sub-committee that did not deal with the distribution of funding and where other officials represented the government, he said.