Public Eye

Frugality not a word in civil service lexicon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 5:47am

Yes, there is an iceberg, as some legislators suspect. The tip we are now seeing exposes the nauseating extravagance of former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming at taxpayers' expense. The iceberg runs deep. But what lies underneath doesn't solely represent Tong's misdeeds. It represents the entrenched culture of extravagance that contaminates our entire civil service.

Unabashed extravagance with the public's money is nothing new in our civil service. It, in fact, defines it. The government tries to project an image of frugality with its HK$450-per-head meal entertainment allowance. But it is just a cover. How frugal is it to pay our top civil servants more than HK$300,000 a month? We're making a huge fuss over Tong's spending of HK$268,000 on wining, dining, cookies and mooncakes. But it's not much more than what he earned in a single month as ICAC chief. As Public Eye has repeatedly pointed out, our bureaucrats are the world's second-highest paid. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor lives in a huge, harbourview house on The Peak with an army of servants paid for by taxpayers. How frugal is that? Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah lives in a taxpayer-financed Shouson Hill mansion. His neighbour is Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing. There's frugality for you.

Recently, Public Eye saw a bureau chief and several lower-ranking officials dine with members of a political party at a private club. At the dinner's end, no fewer than four government cars, with chauffeurs working overtime, were waiting to take the bureau chief and other officials home. Car-pooling is not in our civil service dictionary. Even mid-level officials are entitled to chauffeured cars after office hours. The overtime pay of the four drivers would have easily exceeded the HK$450 rule, rendering it a mockery. Our senior officials have never thought of themselves as ordinary people. They have always behaved as if they belonged to the superior class. Tong simply got a bit carried away living that extravagant lifestyle.


Pricey treats must be something special

Public Eye is mystified. We've tried doing the numbers, but must admit we got stumped. Timothy Tong blew HK$48,000 on mooncakes and cookies during his five years as ICAC boss. But the mid-autumn festival comes just once a year. How many mooncake boxes did he hand out in each of those five festivals to have blown so much money? And would he please tell us what kind of cookies cost so much? Public Eye is dying to try some - at our own expense, of course.


Officials just play at getting hands dirty

Must be fun to get chauffeured somewhere to play at being a cleaner for an hour or so in front of the news cameras and then be driven back to your spacious home or office. We saw our HK$300,000-a-month top officials doing that over the weekend. Wonder what Hong Kong's real cleaners, who toil 12-hour days on minimum wage to survive, thought of that game.


Equality needed in court dress silliness

It's really mean of Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li to rule that solicitors can't wear wigs in court. Why should barristers and judges have the exclusive right to look silly? If we still want to keep the stupid colonial tradition of wigs and robes, then let's have equality. Isn't everyone equal before the law? How can Ma, the top enforcer of this equality, discriminate?

Public Eye says scrap the tradition. It's costing taxpayers a lot in electricity bills cooling courtrooms for people in wigs and gowns in our tropical climate. Wear safari suits instead. But if we must keep the tradition, then at least make an exception. Let bald solicitors wear wigs.