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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:40pm
NewsHong Kong
CORRUPTION

Lawmakers accuse former anti-corruption chief of dodging graft questions

Former ICAC chief granted legal privilege on his testimony at second hearing next week

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 10:34am

Former anti-graft chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming will face a new grilling on Friday after his first appearance before lawmakers yesterday failed to satisfy their thirst for answers over his alleged use of public money on lavish receptions during his tenure.

The hearing of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee to question Tong and his successor, Simon Peh Yun-lu, was meant to run for four hours but ended after Tong gave evidence for less than 90 minutes when lawmakers accused him of dodging questions and wasting time.

The committee decided to invoke the Powers and Privileges Ordinance, which would grant legal privilege to Tong's testimony, meaning it cannot be used against him in legal proceedings.

It would also allow the former Independent Commission Against Corruption commissioner to answer questions without compromising an ongoing criminal investigation into his conduct being carried out by the agency he used to head.

Tong looked haggard as he faced questions over the ICAC spending on anti-graft education, two lavish dinners he hosted and his approval of expenditure which exceeded permitted spending levels and which were revealed in an official audit report last month.

The former high-ranking civil servant, who is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the nation's top political advisory body, did not offer any apology when he faced the press after the hearing.

He said only that he respected the proceedings, as well as the other inquiries being carried out into his actions, and would face them calmly.

"If the hearing finds Tong Hin-ming is wrong, [I] will admit my wrongdoing and bear responsibility. If it clarifies any facts, of course I would also gladly accept that," he said.

Tong emphasised that being corruption-free is a core value of Hong Kong, but said there had been "great pressure", without elaborating.

On several occasions Tong said he could not give a definitive answer to a question because he hadn't had enough time to review the details of expenditure on earlier dates.

He also consulted his legal team of barrister Peter Wong Ting-kwong and lawyer Michelle Hui several times before answering questions.

Lawmaker Alan Leong Ka-kit said: "I have sat here for more than an hour with my greatest patience ... there is nothing he has said that can answer our questions. It is a waste of time."

Committee chairman Abraham Razack said he had expected Tong would be cautious when taking questions because he was now under criminal investigation.

According to Legco rules, the committee can invite any person to give information or explanations, but the person can refuse to do so and what they say is not protected by legal privilege.

One of the focuses of the audit reports was two lavish dinners Tong hosted in 2011. At one dinner, the expenses for wine and desserts were calculated separately so the dinner did not exceed the permitted limit.

Simon Peh, the current ICAC commissioner, said that between 2003 and 2013, the ICAC's community relations department hosted 548 official receptions, and alcohol expenses were calculated separately for 12 of them.

He said the expenses for only four meals exceeded the permitted level once the cost of alcohol was included. The level was exceeded by between HK$11 and HK$132 per head.

He said his staff often bought alcohol separately, instead of ordering it at a restaurant, as it would be cheaper.

Peh appeared at the hearing before Tong. He asked the committee to appear separately from Tong to avoid any conflict or suspicion because he is leading an investigation into Tong's actions. Razack accepted the request.

The committee heard that the expenditure of the ICAC's administrative branch, which covered some of the expenses in question, was HK$48 million in the 2008-09 financial year, exceeding the expenses of the community relations department.

Before Tong took office, the branch only spent half as much as the community relations department.

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This article is now closed to comments

dynamco
"Tong joined the Government in Nov 1972 initially as an Executive Officer and later as an Assistant Trade Officer. He joined the Administrative Service in April 1992 at the rank of Administrative Officer Staff Grade C and rose to the rank of Administrative Officer Staff Grade A in April 2005. Tong has served in various bureaux and departments including the Trade Dept, Security Branch, Urban Services Dept, Education and Manpower Branch, City and New Territories Administration, Home Affairs Dept and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Geneva. He was Deputy Secretary for Security from January 1999 to September 2003 (pushing Article 23 as deputy to Broomhead). He was Commissioner of Customs and Excise from September 2003 to June 2007" - which may be where he found the taste for Mao Tai and brown nosing?
Considering all these people were paid more than Barack Obama for doing SFA you would expect at least quality and integrity. All are innocent until proven guilty yet there is no smoke without fire. Meanwhile the list grows , Donald Tsang, Rafael ****, Mak Chai Kwong, Henry's basement and meanwhile they rewarded Edward Yau for doing SFA as ENB boss for 5 years with a cushy mayor's office manager job, paid at 20% more than Obama makes. Shows what an appalling lack of talent there is available. Fortunately they replaced Yau with someone who is actually doing something about the Environment instead of travelling overseas 59 times.
pbd36
PaulDickinson
That is a great photo accompanying the article - the accusing finger and Timothy Tong with head bowed. A picture does indeed speak a thousand words! However, how can any IKCAC officer look at that photo and not feel angry and ashamed. I am a retired ICAC officer and that is how I feel.
caractacus
This contemptible man is too much of a coward and has too little honour to be open and honest. He is only concerned with saving his own miserable skin.
Given that he joined the Civil Service in 1972, held senior positions in Home Affairs Dept. and Security Bureau, served as Commissioner of Customs and Excise before being appointed Commissioner of ICAC under Donald Tsang's administration, does anyone seriously think he was unaware of the laws and internal regulations governing gifts, entertainment and corruption?
These people surely regard themselves above the law. If he is convicted of a criminal offence, what's the betting he retains his position on the CPPCC?
seikocreamy
Isn't there a double standard here? As I recall, those under criminal investigation have a right to silence. Just stating the obvious. Lawmakers seem to think they are above the law and rules only apply when it suits their agenda.
waijai
Knowing that Mr. TONG is currently the subject of a criminal investigation, it seems the LegCo PAC was wating it's own time. Perhaps they should have waited?
RobinDeCaro
WHO WATCH OVER OUR ANTI-GRAFT WATCHDOG?
The focus is on how much overspending on hospitality gatherings,do we ought to also be skeptical on the fairy tale of the colonial management system renown inherited and it has been on the whole intact.
In the colonial era and the SAR period,The Audit Department year after year points out incidents of mismanagement of coffers among various government departments.Reports after reports,mismanagement and massive wastage of resources drags on years.
Why not summon the department heads to Legco for hearings?The ICAC was set up to combat corruption within the community and the bureaucracy but not the governor.Tong approved lavish reception funds ultra vires due to the fact that the colonial flawed system has not been fixed after the handover.
The vanishing of the myth as the people are more educated,more talented;hence not to drunk with this anymore.The so what superb management system in other fields is unfortunately also flawed.
dynamco
different strokes for different folks ?
LegCo committee leaves Tsang's inquiry to ICAC March 3, 2012 - 9:26am
www.chinadailyapac.com/article/legco-committee-leaves-tsangs-inquiry-icac
Motion to invoke powers under P&P Ordinance rejected
The House Committee of the Legislative Council voted down two motions to probe allegations of conflict of interest directed at Chief Executive Donald Tsang on Friday. The motions sought to establish a select committee and to examine the allegations under the Power and Privilege Ordinance (P&P).
A probe into the allegations has already commenced by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Several lawmakers cited the ICAC inquiry in their reasoning not to support calls for a P&P inquiry. The Chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tam Yiu-chung, said alternate means of investigation should be considered only after the ICAC's effort is concluded.
Byebye
By such lavish entertaining, was Mr Timothy Tong trying to sell some expertise of ICAC to those he entertained? I may not be right to believe that there is no necessity for ICAC to entertain anybody in the way Mr Timothy Tong did; ICAC means Independent Commission Against Corruption!
megafun
wondering if Tong had under $500 worth of food & drinks then he, and other ICAC officers may be regarded as within Gov guidelines. Who is to say that Tong only ate the deserat dishes and drank no expensie wine! If my point is valid, then this investigation seems a waste of time!
johnyuan
The dinners given by ICAC, one assumed mainly been given to not ICAC staffs but others including visitors (from mainland as reported). Still I would ask why ICAC in the course of duty needs to do so. Don’t they mostly perform investigations that a glass of water or a cup of coffee will suffice? Consuming alcohol with meals seem just so counter common sense but invite troubles for destroying the intrinsic no nonsense requirement of its work. Looks like Tong adopted the mainland eating and gift giving (?) culture when mainland visitors came for a function. The newly elected President Xi who ordered to stop such practice among officials in China just didn’t make it in time for Tong’s guests. Still, I am fully aware that working through one’s stomach is a Chinese characteristic. In the 90s a Yale sociologist researched and found that Chinese spent over 50% of their income on food as everything worked around a dinner table. That what Tong had spent is change within ICAC’s operational budget must be. So, when visitors come in town do what the visitors do needs to be updated.
johnwe
If the hearing is a waste of time, the Public Accounts Committee should immediately scrap. It was stupid to insist on it with two other investigations ongoing with more powers. Has the PAC got nothing better to do to waste our powers, time and money?
Many members of Legco have a sadistic and a lust for a symbolic 'public hanging'. Look at the way they persecuted Tang Ying Yen and then CY Leung et al when every one of them probably had at least one illegal action or structure in their cupboard.
What do they expect from Tong except the absolute minimum? Would they open up if they were Tong? He should just stand there and repeat "I was authorized and exercised my discretion." - like a prisoner of war intoning his rank and number when captured.

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