No room for advantage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 4:11am

Lawmakers see themselves as the watchdog of just about anything. From official's conduct to individual corporate dealings, they will not shy away from criticising whenever something does not smell right to them. It was not that long ago when they blasted former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in unison for accepting sponsored trips and other favours from tycoons. Ironically, some members have accepted a Cathay Pacific junket to France this month; and still insist there is nothing wrong when it was disclosed by the media.

It remains unclear why the eight lawmakers and an executive councillor were selected. The highlight of the six-day trip is said to be the handover ceremony of an aircraft at the Airbus factory near Toulouse. But the stopover for sightseeing in Paris and the medieval castle in Carcassone means it is not just a work visit. It raises eyebrows further when they were allowed to bring along a family member; some even rode on the junket for their own vacation and work trips elsewhere.

A wide-range of plausible explanations has been given, but none appears to be convincing. One lawmaker said she simply did not understand why it became an issue, referring to numerous sponsored trips enjoyed by others over the years. Another member said the group was there to learn about the aviation industry. But the revelation that Cathay Pacific has renewed its opposition against a new budget airline during a briefing session has raised questions over conflict of interest.

Exco and Legco are the two most important political organs, with the former vested with the highest decision-making power while the latter holds the key to public funding and legislation. Their decisions can affect aviation business from time to time.

True, lawmakers only have to declare sponsored trips within 14 days under the present rule. But the question obviously goes beyond declaration. The controversies surrounding Tsang and other top officials in recent years show the community expects the highest standard from politicians. Practices unquestioned in the past are not necessarily acceptable today. The incident reflected badly on lawmakers' sensitivity and judgment. They should at least pay for the spouse's expenditure. Legco should also study whether rules should be tightened.

Adherence to the letters of the rules can no longer satisfy the rising expectations on public servants. Lawmakers and Exco members should avoid accepting advantages wherever possible, lest it could be seen as compromising their duties.