Politics blamed for government's end of contract with iProA

A deal to co-run a HK$220m scheme faces the chop because IT service provider came across as backing Henry Tang, board member says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 5:23am

An information technology organisation whose contract with the government is facing an early end may have been affected by its sister organisation's apparent support of Henry Tang Ying-yen in his failed bid for chief executive, a board member says.

In fact, Winnie Tang Shuk-ming, then president of the Internet Professional Association (iProA), had nominated Henry Tang in a personal capacity, she said yesterday.

She was responding to the government's move last month to terminate a contract with the eInclusion Foundation, which is affiliated with iProA, to co-run a HK$220 million internet subsidy scheme that helped underprivileged children. The termination will take effect on May 19.

Winnie Tang said the move was "shocking" and upset the board, although iProA had floated the idea of exiting the scheme last year.

"The government I'm dealing with is very unfamiliar to me after all those years when I did social service," she said.

The government I'm dealing with is very unfamiliar to me after all those years when I did social service

"Everyone says iProA is in Henry Tang's camp. It is a fact that I had nominated [him. The termination of the contract] makes me feel the government must do it politically in order to show it does not favour iProA."

She added, however, that she "did not think there was a strong correlation" between her support for Tang and the government's decision.

The government, in a letter about the contract, said eInclusion had presented untruthful information about its operation.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer said yesterday that the group had "violated" the terms of the service contract and exhibited deficiencies in handling public funds.

Critics have accused eInclusion, which runs the day-to-day operations of the scheme that helps poor children get internet access, of bad governance and poorly kept accounts.

The eInclusion contract attracted controversy in 2011 when a former senior civil servant claimed he had been under pressure to split the scheme into two parts so eInclusion could have a share of the pie along with another group, WebOrganic.

Jeremy Godfrey, who used to head the government's information technology unit, claimed that "top" officials pressured him to give the lucrative contract to eInclusion, which besides iProA is affiliated with the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association. The government has denied his claims.

After eInclusion's contract ends, the association will take over the right to run the service.

Lawmakers have voted down attempts to formally investigate the tender process. Tang admitted there had been "procedural errors" leading to accusations of poor governance, but the errors should not be fatal.

"If we didn't seal the tender box, we could seal it." She said she had no intention to cheat.

In July, the Independent Commission Against Corruption pointed to management flaws in the operation of the scheme. Tang said they had not been subjected to an investigation by the graft-buster.