Privacy chief considered suit for libel over remarks by audit boss

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am

Privacy Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun hit back strongly and publicly yesterday over what he said was a personal attack on him by Audit Commission director Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun.

Demanding an apology from Tang, he said he had thought of suing the audit chief for libel over his 'repulsive' remarks, though he had dropped the idea after sending a lawyer's letter.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post published on July 5, Tang said 'to be fair, Roderick Woo is working much harder than before', after his office was the subject of an audit report. 'He was not really heard of in the past three or four years until we walked into his office.'

Responding at his annual press conference yesterday Woo said Tang must have been living in the Sahara if he thought the privacy office was not working hard.

'How can he say I rolled my sleeves up after the auditor's push, which implies our staff did not work until the audit investigation?' he said.

'My colleagues and I did a lot of work in the past four years. How can Tang say he did not know about this? Was he living in the Sahara Desert instead of Hong Kong in that period?'

He said he had sent a lawyer's letter to Tang last Thursday but had decided to stop the legal proceedings after learning that taxpayers' money might be involved, as Tang had sought legal advice from the Department of Justice.

The Audit Commission declined to comment apart from confirming it had received the letter from Woo and saying the matter was being handled by the Department of Justice.

Woo, 68, also accused Tang yesterday of having 'a mentality of age discrimination' for suggesting he might have treated his appointment as a 'semi-retirement job' before the audit report in 2009 and had 'started to make noise about protecting privacy' after it.

Woo said he might file a complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission over that remark which he said was unfair, unjust and an insult to all senior citizens who took jobs. He and Tang had never been close friends so 'how can he know about my mentality towards my work?' he asked.

'Does he mean I am having cups of tea and smoking cigars in a retirement type of work?' he asked, advising all senior citizens to ignore the auditor's remarks.

Among its findings, the audit report said the Privacy Commission had rented 58 per cent more office space than it was entitled to under government standards.

It also criticised the commissioner for spending HK$9,900 for five nights in a hotel on a conference trip to Britain for which the organiser had provided free accommodation.

Legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, said the director of the Audit Commission had qualified privilege in making comments in relation to his duties if those comments were not malicious. 'It would be difficult to prove those comments were malicious if Woo really sued Tang.'

But legislator James To Kun-sun said the auditor's comments were inappropriate and any such claims should have a factual base.