EOC considers staff meetings in hotel lobby after Legco criticism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2009, 12:00am

Senior officers of the Equal Opportunities Commission might hold late-night meetings in hotel lobbies on future business trips so that the chairman would not need to rent an 'ambassador suite' for meetings, lawmakers were told yesterday.

Raymond Tang Yee-bong, chairman of the anti-discrimination watchdog, also told a Legco Public Accounts Committee hearing that he did not try to withhold vital information from commission members when they discussed a damning Audit Commission report.

On the second day of a hearing into the auditor's value-for-money report on the commission, lawmakers repeatedly criticised Mr Tang and the commission for wasting taxpayers' money.

But Mr Tang, responding to the auditor's criticism, in particular his renting of a HK$2,880 per night 'ambassador suite' when 18 commission members visited Beijing in July 2005, said it was the cheapest meeting room available.

'It was unfortunate that the cheapest suite was called the ambassador suite,' Mr Tang said, arguing that the extra space was needed for staff to have their nightly meeting.

'Perhaps in the future we can have meetings in the business centre, or even in the hotel lobby.'

The cost of a HK$540-a-head lunch before the delegation departed for Beijing was also criticised by lawmakers, who said staff should have paid for it themselves. Mr Tang insisted that expenses incurred immediately before a trip could be claimed for under commission practices.

But assistant Audit Commission director Joseph Ying Kwok-wing said: 'How can someone claim expenses for something before the trip started?'

Accounting sector lawmaker Paul Chan Mo-po, a member of the public accounts committee, said that a series of expense irregularities was unacceptable.

Mr Tang said that thinking back, several decisions - including the hotel room, the sending of the material from Sweden, and how the commission bought hundreds of environmentally friendly bags as gifts although it had 1,700 in stock - could have been made differently.

He denied, however, that he had withheld vital information about his HK$24,600 per year life insurance premium, which was allegedly not authorised, when commission members discussed the auditor's report on March 26. EOC member Mandy Tam Heung-man alleged earlier that members were not provided with the relevant information.

Business expenses

The Equal Opportunities Commission is criticised for wasting taxpayers' money

In one instance, commission chairman Raymond Tang couriered 13kg of print material from Sweden to Hong Kong, spending more than, in HK dollars, $6,000