ICAC asked to tighten rules on repayment of expenses

Call for watchdog to be 'whiter than white' after it overspent by using 'grey area' of guidelines

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 3:44am

The Director of Audit called on the city's graft-buster to review its reimbursement system after the facts of how it fudged entertaining expenses to exceed budget limits on two official dinners came to light.

The report released by the Audit Commission on Wednesday revealed that two dinners hosted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in December 2011 for an international anti-bribery event had exceeded the permitted budget.

The cost of a dinner hosted by then-commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming to entertain 110 international guests on December 8 was HK$1,045 per head, more than twice the official HK$450 ceiling. However, an assistant director approved their cost as publicity expenditure instead of entertainment expenses.

Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei said the case exposed a grey area in ICAC's guidelines on entertainment expenses.

"It is not a definite breach of regulation because the whole project was for publicity, so they put it as a publicity fee ... But there is a grey area. I think it is against the spirit of the whole guidelines," he said.

The cost for another dinner hosted for 24 people two days earlier was HK$431 per head.

But when it included six bottles of wine bought separately for the dinner and dessert at a separate cafe, the actual cost was HK$532 per head.

ICAC explained in the report that 12 bottles of wine had been bought for various social occasions and that only six were used on that night. The rest were kept for further use. It also said that during the dinner, guests said they wanted to try some local delicacies so they were taken to have Chinese desserts elsewhere.

Tong attended both dinners.

Sun described the second case as "unusual", but said he did not find it a common practice in the ICAC. He urged the graft-buster to review its system.

Former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, now a lawmaker, criticised the practice for damaging the commission's image, saying it was disappointing. "The ICAC should be whiter than white," she said. "It should be promoting anti-corruption."

An ICAC spokesman said it would seek approval from the commissioner, instead of assistant directors, for approval in similar cases in the future.