Liaison office staff warned not to take gifts

Accepting presents during events such as Dragon Boat festival against Beijing's policy, staff told, but some doubt impact of warning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 6:03am

The central government's liaison office has warned its staff to "decline gifts such as food and fruit during festivities", including this month's Dragon Boat festival.

The statement comes after Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping made a call last December to end official extravagance.

The liaison office's statement, released on its website on Friday night, reiterated staff "must strictly abide by the central government's eight requirements about improving working styles and maintaining close contact with the people".

Office director Zhang Xiaoming announced in February that while the bureau would keep close contact with the people, it would reduce general social activities, ban officers from receiving expensive gifts from residents, and decline festive hampers.

Since then, the liaison office's receptions have come under question after it was revealed that Timothy Tong Hin-ming, while commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, hosted lavish meals for top officials from the office.

Wang Zhimin, a deputy director of the liaison office, earlier described the receptions Tong had hosted for his officials as "normal exchanges". The liaison office is tasked with representing the central government in Hong Kong, and liaising with different organisations and sectors to foster exchanges.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the high- profile announcement was intended to show the liaison office was in step with Beijing's views.

But he called the ban a "superficial gesture" and questioned whether it would have lasting impact. "It confirmed, indirectly, that giving and receiving gifts has been common for the office.

Lau said: "The [ban] will have a short-term effect, but since those formalities are common in China, I think the practice could re-emerge in some other form after a period of time."

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan also worried that the ban "could do little to tackle corruption in general".

Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, from the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions, welcomed the liaison office's decision.

"I know businessmen love to offer those gifts … and I have seen hampers and boxes of mooncake piling up in the liaison office during festivities in the past," Wong said.