Five of government's eight new deputies in citizenship dilemma

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2008, 12:00am

The row over deputy ministers holding foreign passports flared again yesterday after five of the eight new undersecretaries disclosed that they held foreign citizenship.

After a week of debate and speculation, Greg So Kam-leung, recently appointed undersecretary for commerce and economic development, confirmed yesterday he had a Canadian passport and was applying to renounce his Canadian citizenship.

He accepted criticism that the saga highlighted his political insensitivity and acknowledged that public opinion had swayed his decision.

He said he had submitted his application to renounce his citizenship to the Canadian consulate yesterday morning, saying it had been a difficult decision to make.

Following the announcement, four other undersecretaries also disclosed they were citizens of foreign countries, but denied Mr So's move had put political pressure on them.

Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, who will become undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs on Monday, said he had initiated the process of giving up his British citizenship. The other three were still deciding how to proceed.

With the status of his deputy resolved, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said yesterday he was sure 'undersecretaries will be very ... sensitive to public opinion'.

However, both Mr Lam and Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen reiterated there was no legal obligation to renounce foreign citizenship.

Democratic Party legislator Lee Wing-tat said Mr So had moved to give up his foreign passport only after the press uncovered the matter.

Julia Leung Fung-yee, who will be undersecretary for financial services and the treasury, has British citizenship. She said each undersecretary would have their own factors to consider. She said her whole family had British passports but it had never cast doubt on her duty and loyalty to Hong Kong.

However, she now recognised there was 'a sentiment that the requirement [to renounce citizenship] should also apply to undersecretaries' and would make a decision before taking up her post in August.

Mr Tam and Ms Leung were granted British citizenship under the British Nationality Selection Scheme, introduced in 1990, without having to settle in the UK.

The beneficiaries of this scheme are given a certificate which they can use to acquire British passports at any British consulate.

The scheme was introduced as a means of encouraging local talent to stay in Hong Kong rather than emigrate after the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square, which sparked a crisis of confidence in Hong Kong.

Mr Tam said he had initiated the process of giving up the certificate by lodging relevant papers with the British consulate in Hong Kong. Ms Leung said she acquired the right to British citizenship under the scheme through her husband, and would discuss with her family whether to give it up before taking up her undersecretary's duties.

Gabriel Leung, who will be undersecretary for food and health, is a Canadian passport holder and will decide whether to renounce it before taking up the post in September.

Kitty Poon Kit, the undersecretary for the environment, has a United States passport. She said she would resolve the issue before assuming her new post.