Government officials were overpaid HK$1.73m in housing allowances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 December, 2009, 12:00am

Two officials at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department have been overpaid by a total of HK$1.73 million worth of housing allowance, according to recently published government accounts.

This accounts for more than 97 per cent of the cash losses attributable to civil servants due to embezzlement, theft or negligence in the last financial year.

A Leisure and Cultural Services spokesman refused to reveal details of the cases, only saying the overpayments were discovered during an internal review and so far HK$500,000 had been recovered.

He said several officers had been accountable and the department had taken steps to avoid a recurrence.

The news came as an Audit Commission report last month also found that the housing allowances of three senior executives at the government-funded Productivity Council had been overpaid.

Paul Chan Mo-po, the lawmaker representing the accountancy sector, said the department should give more details. 'The first question is whether the recipients are responsible for reporting the overpayments and do they face any consequences?' he said. 'Are there loopholes in internal procedures which contribute to overpaid benefits?'

Chan, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee, said he would follow up the matter in the legislature.

The Democratic Party's veteran lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, also a member of Legco's Public Accounts Committee, questioned how overpayments could occur. 'It is worrying why there are such overpayments, given there is a clear mechanism defining who is entitled to housing benefits,' he said.

Government accounts also revealed an embezzlement of HK$4,392 by a Water Supplies Department clerk during the 2008-09 financial year. The clerk was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, and ordered to repay the amount. The case was revealed during an Audit Commission inspection.

Cash losses - reported by Government Logistics, the Health Department, the Social Welfare Department and the Home Affairs Bureau - amounting to HK$31.3 million, are still outstanding from previous years.