Denise Yue says sorry again, but won't consider resigning
Fanny W. Y. Fung and Gary Cheung
Civil service minister Denise Yue Chung-yee yesterday offered her second public apology for approving Leung Chin-man's post-retirement job with New World China Land, pledging to improve the vetting system as soon as possible.
But while accepting personal responsibility, the minister said she had not thought of resigning.
Yue, criticised by lawmakers for having committed a 'grave error of judgment' and failing to demonstrate political sensitivity, said: 'For all the public concerns and doubts raised, I hold myself accountable and accept responsibility. I would like to convey my sincere apologies to the public again.'
She first apologised after Leung's new job came to light in 2008.
In its report on the scandal that engulfed the former housing director, the Legislative Council select committee that investigated the affair made 23 recommendations to reform the vetting of former directorate civil servants' applications to take post-service jobs. One of the key proposals is to lengthen the control period, during which former officials must seek the administration's approval before taking such jobs.
It said the period for officials at directorate grade eight - the rank of permanent secretaries - should be extended from three to five years, while that for directorate grades four to seven should be lengthened from two to four years.
Yue said her bureau would study all the recommendations by the select committee and a review committee as soon as possible. But she said a balance should be struck between preventing conflict of interest and preserving individual rights.
'Under provisions of the Bill of Rights and the Basic Law, each Hong Kong citizen has the right and freedom to choose his or her job.'
So Ping-chi, chairman of the Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association, said the panel's proposals failed to address the core problems. 'Since the committee finds Mr Leung concealed facts, why doesn't it recommend a penalty? If there was negligence by officials who approved his application, should disciplinary hearings be held?'
He warned that tightening post-retirement job approval rules could trigger an exodus of middle-ranking directorate civil servants. 'Those in directorate grade four to six can escape the restrictions by leaving early before their normal retirement age. By doing so, they can keep their pension while taking up new jobs.'
The Chief Executive's Office said Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had noted the inadequacies in the authorities' handling of Leung's job application. 'The chief executive has asked the Civil Service Bureau to be more prudent in handling applications for post-service employment by former directorate civil servants,' it said.
Yue said: 'I am the decision maker. The buck stops with me ... if there is any letdown, I have let down members of the public.
'I believe that all the colleagues involved in vetting Mr Leung's application did act in good faith and in an impartial manner.'
An official familiar with the issue said the government's assessment was that major parties did not demand Yue's resignation. 'Members of the public should make a good judgment on whether Yue is a good and competent official. We don't expect a looming political storm calling for her head,' the official said.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the Legislative Council's public service panel chairwoman, said there was no need for Yue to step down. 'It is true that she was negligent when vetting Leung Chin-man's case. But she has made a great contribution in various positions and is an honest official.'