Accounts staff blamed for travel claims leak

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am

Privacy Commission accounting staff are believed to have leaked to the press and government details of alleged inflated travel-allowance claims made by the former deputy privacy commissioner, a top bureaucrat claimed yesterday.

Former privacy commissioner Tony Lam Wing-hong, 59, has been accused of overclaiming expenses for six trips to Australia between 2001 and 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of misconduct in public office and three counts of using a document to deceive, involving claims of more than HK$100,000.

Testifying in the District Court, former deputy secretary of home affairs Stephen Fisher quoted Mr Lam as saying it may have been internal accounting staff who sent an anonymous fax on July 14, 2005, to the media and his office.

'The information reported to the media was very detailed. It must have come from inside the commission. I had suspected that it was from more than one person from the accounts office,' said Mr Fisher, now director of the Social Welfare Department.

Lam allegedly claimed the full allowance of A$268 (HK$1,929.25) a day for the six trips when he was only entitled to 60 per cent, as he stayed at his own house in Melbourne. At a meeting on July 28, Mr Fisher told Lam the government was concerned about the allegations.

'He said that he relied on his secretary to help him claim cash advances for all the trips. After the trip, he would hand all the receipts to his secretary. She will then make the refund,' Mr Fisher said.

He said that Lam told him that his secretary was not aware of the full details of subsistence allowance. 'He said he himself was not fully aware of all the details,' Mr Fisher said.

The Privacy Commission's former administration manager, George Chan, who was responsible for approving expense claims, said the department did not check where their officers stayed during their overseas trips, even when they claimed the full amount of expenses.

Prosecutor Nicholas Adams said Lam had claimed the reduced rate on three trips, in 1998, 2000 and 2001, alleging the defendant knew what the subsistence rates were.

But Graham Harris, for Lam, said people had applied for the 60 per cent level before that reduced rate came into effect in 1999 because the commission's budget was tight.

Mr Chan said he could not remember that taking place.

The case continues today.