• Tue
  • Jul 29, 2014
  • Updated: 5:33am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 3:23am

Time for Cathay to come clean on junket

Something strikes me in a complaint letter sent to us courtesy of Cathay Pacific's corporate affairs chief, Chitty Cheung.

"For many years," Cheung wrote, "It has been Cathay Pacific's practice to invite guests to events such as aircraft delivery trips and new destination launches."

Now that's the story we seem to be missing, because we still don't know much about those lavish junkets, sorry, I mean business trips. Readers need to have a better understanding of how far they date back, how frequent and costly they have been and who was on previous trips. My guess is that past sponsored travellers would be a who's who in Hong Kong.

I suspect the reason no one anticipated the furore over the trip to France is because such trips have been, as Cheung implied, common and nothing out of the ordinary for Cathay. That may be why the 10 holidaymaking lawmakers and an Executive Council member, Cheng Yiu-tong, felt hard done by.

Of course, things are supposed to be business as usual - until it is not.

In the letter, Cheung said the trip was not a junket because that implied "an extravagant celebration that had no clear purpose other than to entertain". No doubt in Cheung's exalted business circles, two business-class round-trip tickets to France - the lawmakers had either a spouse or a child with them - costing north of HK$100,000 and an extended stay in a luxury hotel don't count as extravagant. To a guy like me, that qualifies as the trip of a lifetime.

Cheung said it was really a business trip to inform because "aviation is an important industry in Hong Kong that employs thousands of people and is a pillar of the local economy". You got that right. It's precisely because of the importance of national airlines - and CX is Hong Kong's equivalent - that they are almost always heavily regulated. Hong Kong's aviation industry is no exception.

The reverse of regulation is sometimes called "regulatory capture", the co-opting of regulators and people with policy influence through usually legitimate or legal means to manipulate regulatory outcomes. That line must not be crossed, otherwise it's called corruption.

Now is not the time for Cathay to be angry with the media, but to re-examine its practice.

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This article is now closed to comments

John Adams
Mr Lo, you are asking the correct questions and CX are starting to squirm.
Who these days does NOT understand that:"aviation is an important industry in Hong Kong etc"?
One might as well ask "who does not regularly fly ?"
If I as an engineer (and a regular CX passenger) but with zero business / personal contacts to the aviation industry was invited to visit an Airbus factory I would jump at the chance and spend all my time at Airbus : the chance of a lifetime to see how an aircraft is built !
But, as a director of a company that has a huge market share in industry XYZ, if I was invited on a 10-day junket by one particular big customer to see "how products XYZ are made" I would run a million miles in the other direction in case it was seen as an advantage.
That would be doubly the case if I had any personal influence on the legislation (e.g. environmental) affecting industry XYZ .
If I really wanted to understand how products XYZ are made I would do it the hard way :shirt sleeves, low-profile, sweaty, hard, long visits to XYZ production lines, which in fact I did for decades.
.
Mr Albert Ho is on the board of the Airport Authority. All well and good. So let me ask him this:
.
Mr Ho : Compared with the 10 days in France "inspecting Airbus" how many days did you spend last year on the ground at HKIA in shirt sleeves inspecting HK's aviation industry at ground level ?
Zero ?
Kubrick
This was clearly a junket, otherwise why invite and pay for the spouses. Who do CX think they are kidding.
honger
Ms Cheung, could you please disclose who else were at CX's "entertainments" in the past?
Which Legco/Exco/Airport Authority/Finance Committee/etc member were at these junkets before, pray, Ms Cheung?
And, Ms Cheung, lest you are not aware, your definition of "entertainment" still runs foul of the regulations governing corruption. Accepting100K tickets plus room and board is no different than the millions accepted by Bo Xilai.
I know how warped values are now in this town..........but to try to spin your way out using the English language? Try again!
johnchan8388
spot on alex. Good on you. So much for free market capitalism in HK. cathay has so much confidence in itself that it fears competition
XYZ
How is the behaviour of these public officials different from a policeman or government inspector accepting a free meal from a restaurant, except that the lowly policeman or inspector would lose his job, his pension, his reputation and be prosecuted for accepting an advantage? How does "declaring" the receipt of a bribe alter its fundamentally corrupt nature? All of these hypocritical piggish public officials caught with their snouts in the trough should resign and be prosecuted for accepting an advantage. Cathay Pacific should be prosecuted as well. Where is the ICAC when you need them? Too busy re-stocking their wine cabinet? Maybe they get free holidays from Cathay Pacific to improve their understanding of the aviation industry, too.
captam
Surely members of the Airport Authority's board of directors are deemed public servants?
So a bribe is a bribe is a bribe
dynamco
To save Chitty the trouble, since 2004 to date Legislators lodged the following number of CX / Dragon Airlines complimentary flights
1 member x 5 trips (he donated to charity after each trip but not full amount)
1 member x 3 trips (actually he posted the same trip on 3 Jun 2008 + again on 9 Apr 2010 = 2 trips)
2 members x 2 trips each of which 1 member is also an Exco member & HKAA Board member
15 members x 1 trip of which 1 member is on HKAA board
1 Exco member 2013 x 1 trip
many of the earlier trips were 3 days each to Boeing Seattle or Airbus Toulouse collecting new planes for the return journey whilst some were new route openings to Moscow, Milan, Chicago
kctony
Thanks, Alex. I was going to respond to Ms Cheung's cliched letter. I am a retired cargo forwarder.
I thought Cathay ran into hard times as I heard from my former colleagues on how CX cut its entertainment budget even to its top cargo customers the past few years. "Dubai golf trip? Taipei tennis trip? You are dinosaur. They haven't even served bottled water at the Cathay Box in the Hong Kong Stadium for a few years for crying out loud!"
And now this.
I am not disappointed by Cheng Yiu-tong's high profile claim. It is consistent with the DAB members' lack of political sensitiveness, deliberate or otherwise. They all have difficulty in comprehending what "appears to be" means. Poor acting chief executive Mrs. Carrie Lam had to meet the press yesterday morning clarifying the possible action the executive council might need to take
However, Albert Ho Chun-yan, although not an executive council member, is a lawyer. He should understand the apperance of conflict of interest better.
nkthean
Cathay should be investigated as to whether they are trying to bribe legistators. People of Hong Kong, please wake up to fact that Cathay has been depriving them of low cost airlines in HK. They have been lobbying the HK Government of blocking off the low cost airlines (so far successful). Singapore, Malaysia have an abundance of low cost carriers, e.g Jetstar, AirAsia, etc. Cathay's actions have deprived HK business of having more tourists of being able to come to HK (the Govenment's rationale is that the tourists that come via low cost airlines are not those Hong Kong wants, what an excuse !) and spend money and also depriving Hong Kong people of being able to travel to places outside HK at more affordable prices. Cathay have been touting lower fares, but the flights are at ungodly hours, and the surcharges (fuel, security, etc) adds up to the original price of ticket. Cathay's customer service on the phone is that of a low cost airline, has been depriving its loyal customers of been able to redeem flights from their hard-earned miles on CX (try to redeem flights recently?). It's time for the government to introduce some more competition for Cathay to improve its service and not deprive HK people of more choices in their travels. So, Cathay is doing these junkets for free ! Legistators are complicit for not pushing the Government to push for more competition.
XYZ
Next step: LegCo compels Cathay Pacific to reveal the details of all of their "educational tours" involving public officials going back, say, the last 10 years, including names, dates, destinations, duration and costs. If LegCo won't do it (which is probable because it appears that they're all in it up to their eyeballs), then the ICAC should.

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