Use of name card shows the elite mindset at work

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am

Undersecretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung is no doubt a busy man. For convenience, he attached his government name card to an Immigration Department application for the renewal of his domestic helper's contract - in place of the requirement for an income statement. He said it was a time-saving measure because at the time he had only just joined the government and so did not have an up-to-date income statement. That may be so, but the fact he used his public position for a personal matter smacks of arrogance. Wisely, he has now apologised for his action.

Mr So could have supplied a bank statement. Instead, he considered the card, which bears the government's logo and his name and title, sufficient proof that he had the financial means to pay his helper. He believed that, since his earnings were public knowledge, this met Immigration Department requirements.

It clearly does not. As a senior member of the government, the undersecretary receives a healthy salary; official records would show precisely what he is paid. He presumably could hire several domestic helpers, should he choose to do so. But it is his obligation to prove this, not that of the officer handling the contract. This is incidental to the use of his government-supplied name card in the matter. A code of conduct clearly directs government employees in their use of official resources. The aim is to prevent corrupt practices and attempts to gain unfair advantage. What Mr So did does not rise to the level of corruption or abuse of power, but it does say something about the mindset of elite government officials.

In this economic downturn, many people are suffering. Some workers have lost their jobs; others have had to accept substantial pay cuts. Few people other than senior government officials enjoy a high salary with job security. That is why officials need to be exemplary in their public and private conduct to avoid provoking the public's ire. Mr So's use of his government name card in a private matter was ill-judged. He may have perceived its use as innocent, but in the eyes of the public, it plainly is not.