Democrats apologise for Cathay junket

It wasn’t appropriate for lawmakers to accept the free trip, says party’s central committee, and chief Emily Lau says sorry to the public

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 5:21am

The Democratic Party considers its lawmakers' acceptance of Cathay Pacific's free trip to France as inappropriate and has apologised to the public.

Its central committee said last night that the party had a guideline which stated that committee members and councillors should not accept any overly generous offers.

If this happened to Leung Chun-ying or [the development minister] Paul Chan Mo-po, they would certainly have been given a hard time

It had yet to decide on any follow-up action, said party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, who made the apology.

Some of the lawmakers who went on the junket yesterday meanwhile promised to remain "unbiased" in doing their job.

They gave this vow after confirming that during the six-day trip Cathay management had reiterated its opposition to potential rival Jetstar Hong Kong's bid for an air operator's licence.

Four out of the eight holidaying lawmakers had yet to declare their interests on the Legislative Council's website yesterday.

Some lawmakers were also found to have deviated from Cathay's itinerary, which was mainly to the Airbus plant in Toulouse.

Elizabeth Quat, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, went to Frankfurt with her husband about a week before the tour and insurance sector representative Chan Kin-por went to Britain with his wife on business before joining the group in France.

Democrats Albert Ho Chun-yan, James To Kun-sun and their wives also flew to Paris last Thursday, a day earlier than the scheduled visit.

Cathay Pacific paid for the Chans' detours to London and Quat's flight to Frankfurt, but it was unsure whether Quat paid for her flights to join her colleagues in France.

All eight lawmakers travelled with a family member, either a spouse or child.

They were criticised because there could be a potential conflict of interest.

Executive Council member Cheng Yiu-tong was also among the delegates, but he could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Liberal Party's Felix Chung Kwok-pan confirmed that while they were in Toulouse, a Cathay director reiterated the company's stance against an application by Jetstar, a low-cost airline venture between Shun Tak Holdings, Qantas Airways and China Eastern Airlines, for an air operator's licence.

Cathay believed a new licence should go to a local company, it was understood.

"We knew these issues before the journey, so it won't affect our judgment," Chung said.

Albert Ho also said that "the authority to [approve air operator's] licences lies solely with the government". He said lawmakers would not be giving Cathay any favours just because they were treated by the company.

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that for years, it had been the airline's practice to invite guests on aircraft delivery trips and new destination launches.

"New airline licence applications go through the government, not Legco," it said.

Some Hongkongers were not satisfied with the lawmakers' explanation. On RTHK's phone-in programme Talkabout, a caller criticised the three pan-democratic delegates for having double standards.

"If this happened to Leung Chun-ying or [the development minister] Paul Chan Mo-po, they would certainly have been given a hard time," he said.