Lawmakers' patchy record in declaring their assets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


Some lawmakers disclose their interests frequently, and many of the more candid are directly elected. Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan listed HK$6.45 in 'goods' as a donation from fellow party member Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, although it's not necessary to report such trifling amounts. Legco guidelines require lawmakers to declare donations of HK$10,000 and above.

Lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung declared he was an 'unremunerated director' of pirate radio station Citizens' Radio. Two Legco members - Cheung Hok-ming and Leung Yiu-chung, who both represent the New Territories West constituency - include exact addresses when declaring property.

In contrast, half the functional constituency members who own property don't disclose how many they have or where they are.

'Properties in Hong Kong, China and Canada,' is all that is stated on the property declaration form of Abraham Razack, who represents the real estate and construction sector.

Only 15 per cent of directly elected lawmakers were similarly vague in their disclosures.

Political scientist Ma Ngok, an associate professor at Chinese University, said directly elected lawmakers knew they were more accountable because voters could always punish or reward them at the ballot box.

'If I know that a guy is connected with a tobacco company and I know that he is going to be relatively liberal towards other tobacco companies - on tobacco bans, for example, on advertisements - I will take it into account when I vote for him,' Ma said.

'If I think that he is getting a lot of donations from tobacco companies and is not going to vote for the bans but I think he is doing OK in other policy areas, then I can still vote for him - that's OK.'

The city's functional constituencies, comprising half of Legco, were not universally elected and therefore unaccountable to the public. 'From the government's perspective, the functional constituencies are there because they want to use their expertise,' Ma said. 'That is the best way to guarantee a conflict of interest.'

Given their deep ties to the private sector, what might happen if Legco and Executive Council members had to start sitting out of meetings that affected corporate boards on which they sat? 'It would disable the whole system,' Ma said.

The civil service declaration system differs greatly from those for Exco and Legco. Stringent, clear requirements exist, and failure to comply can bring strict sanctions. Civil servants are advised on avoiding conflicts of interest in the 'Civil Servants' Guide to Good Practices'.

A first step to improving accountability in other government bodies, according to Ma, would be the government setting a minimum standard across every public body.

Public bodies are defined by the Independent Commission Against Corruption as Exco, Legco, district councils and 'any board, commission, committee or other body ... appointed by or on behalf of the chief executive'.

The next step would be setting up a task force similar to the Audit Commission that would carry out random checks on members' interests. It would keep public officials on their toes, and help retain public confidence in the system, Ma said. And it would give the public the information necessary to judge for itself.

'Conflict of interest is largely a 'perception' issue,' wrote Thomas Chan, then director of corruption prevention for the ICAC, in a paper for an Asian Development Bank and Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development international anti-corruption conference in 2005. 'It is not a matter of whether you think you have done the right thing. What matters is whether the public thinks you have done the right thing.'

Attention to detail

The Civic Party's Tanya Chan (above) listed 'goods' donated to her by Audrey Eu Yuet-mee worth, in HK dollars: $6.45