Bankers skirt rule on advisory roles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 April, 2010, 12:00am

The government may have a rule limiting its advisers to membership of six boards or statutory bodies so they do not take on more work than they can handle, but two busy bankers have found time to sign up for seven apiece.

They are among more than 3,600 non-official members of more than 400 advisory bodies set up by the government to help it form policy and make decisions in different areas.

Strictly speaking, the bankers - Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), and Patrick Ma Ching-hang, a director and general manager of Tai Sang Bank - are not breaking the 'six-board rule' laid down in a review in 2003.

This is because one each of their appointments was made not by the government but by organisations of which they are members, or as a result of positions they hold in those bodies.

The number of people in breach - technically or otherwise - of the rule has plunged since 2004, the year after it was introduced, when 45 were over the limit.

But the number breaching another aspect of the rule - that no one should serve on a board for more than six years - has steadily climbed to 222 people last year from 185 the year before.

The Home Affairs Bureau said that as a general guideline, a person should be appointed to no more than six committees, but members nominated by organisations in relevant policy areas and ex-officio members of a board were not counted.

A bureau spokesman said the appointing authority also needed to ensure that they chose the most suitable individuals. 'The relevant bureaus or departments may, on occasions, consider it necessary and appropriate to make an exception to the 'six-board rule' for the bodies under their purview,' the spokesman said.

Neither Hung nor Ma could not be reached for comment.

Hung was appointed by the government to six boards, including the Hospital Authority, the Airport Authority, the Exchange Fund Advisory Committee and the Council for Sustainable Development. He also serves on the Banking Advisory Committee as a 'representative' member.

Ma has been appointed to six boards, including the Hospital Authority, the Elderly Commission and the Legal Aid Services Council. He also serves on the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Advisory Board as an 'ex-officio' member in the capacity of immediate past chairman.

Again, Ma has not flouted the 'six-board rule' because his membership of the advisory board is not counted as a government appointment.

Home Affairs Bureau records show that in December 3,663 people were holding 5,735 government- appointed, non-official seats on 433 advisory and statutory bodies. At the end of March, 15 people were serving on six committees, including a security adviser and a social worker.

Alex Leung Wai-hung, an engineer, was appointed by the government to two advisory and statutory bodies while serving on another three boards as a 'representative' member, nominated by relevant organisations. He is also serving on two subcommittees formed under two boards.

Tsang Man-biu, an architect, was appointed by the administration to two bodies while serving on another two boards as a representative nominated by relevant organisations. He also sits on three subcommittees formed under two bodies to which he has been appointed.

Carolin Fong Suet-yuen, an architect, was appointed to two boards while serving on another body as a 'representative' member. She is also serving on three subcommittees formed under two bodies to which she has been appointed.

Fong said the workload of some bodies was not heavy, as they met only a few times a year.

A bureau spokesman said subcommittees were also not counted against the 'six-board rule'.

At the end of March, another 15 people were serving on six advisory and statutory bodies. They include Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long, legislator representing health services; Dr Ng Cho-nam, associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong; Stephen Yau How-boa, chief executive of International Social Service (Hong Kong); and Betty Ho Siu-fong, a town planner and director of the Conservancy Association.

Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the reliance on a handful of people for their service on advisory bodies indicated there was only a tiny pool of talent trusted by the administration. 'I doubt whether those people serving on six or seven boards are able to handle their work,' she said.

Lau, who has been urging the government to review the operation of advisory bodies, also criticised it for making a 'tricky' interpretation of the 'six-board rule' by not counting 'representative' and ex-officio members.

As of December, more than 27 per cent of the 5,735 appointed non-official posts were taken by women, compared with 27.5 per cent in 2008.

Of the appointees to the 433 statutory bodies, about 16 per cent are from the education sector and 15 per cent from the legal sector.

About 1 per cent of appointees are directors of six major property companies, including Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties. Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, Li Ka-shing's eldest son, is the busiest scion of the city's tycoons, serving on four advisory bodies.

Joseph Lee said he spent about a quarter of his time devoted to community service on work relating to the six boards. 'In the past few years, six or seven meetings of these boards clashed with Legco meetings. In these circumstances, I gave priority to Legco meetings.'

Lee said he found the workload arising from serving on six boards was still manageable. 'But I think serving on six bodies is the maximum number a person can afford,' he said.

Additional reporting by Tanna Chong

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