Clara Chong rejects claims of being a tourism spendthrift

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am

Clara Chong Ming-wah hit out at legislators yesterday over accusations that she was a spendthrift and squandered taxpayers' money while executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Directing her comments at lawmaker Mandy Tam Heung-man, Ms Chong rejected the accusation and said the board had established measures to monitor its spending. Ms Tam had called her greedy for seeking an expensive medical plan for herself and her family members.

'If the word greedy affects my personal functions and the performance of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, then I am willing to accept that accusation. But I don't see any problem with making suggestions or demands about my own salary,' Ms Chong said. She said her family was also unhappy about the accusation.

The board, which has long been an easy and highly public target for critics of its multimillion-dollar budget, is under scrutiny by members of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee over an auditor's report into its operation. Lawmakers asked Ms Chong why the salaries of 11 staff were not reduced after an independent consultant found in September 2003 they were being paid more than 25 per cent of the market median rate. The wages of the top performers were subsequently increased.

Ms Chong said the decision to increase their pay instead of freezing it was made by the board's staff and finance committee. Tourism commissioner Au King-chi, who sits on the board, said she was the only one who expressed reservations.

Ms Chong said: 'I don't agree we were extravagant. We do have a strategy and mechanism to make decisions on staff pay. It's not because the media says we are extravagant and then we must sacrifice certain staff and slash their salaries. This issue was not decided by a single person. It was decided by the relevant committee and the board.'

Legislator Albert Cheng King-hon rejected Ms Chong's claim that she suffered a pay cut after joining the board in 2001. He said the total package offered by the government was HK$3.8 million a year, similar to what she was paid previously when she worked for a bank.

Ms Chong said: 'Greedy - this term was reported widely in the press. Even though it's not going to be included in the report, to myself and the board, it's most unfair to say we are extravagant in our spending.'