Legislators on Cathay junket give to charity

Contrite lawmakers offer price of flights to appease critics who say trip may have given rise to a conflict of interest on aviation issues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 4:27am

At least six lawmakers who went on a Cathay Pacific junket to France will donate tens of thousands of dollars to local charities, after their earlier explanations or apologies failed to satisfy critics who say the trip may have created a conflict of interest.

Six local environmental groups issued a joint statement yesterday, calling for executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong and the eight other lawmakers involved to take a cautious approach in considering whether a third runway should be added at the city's airport.

On Thursday, some of the lawmakers confirmed that during the contentious six-day trip, Cathay management had reiterated the "importance" of the airport gaining an extra runway, and Cathay's opposition to potential rival Jetstar Hong Kong's bid for an air operator's licence.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Democratic Party's Albert Ho Chun-yan and James To Kun-sun appeared to back down and apologise. They vowed to donate HK$50,000 each to a charity of Cathay Pacific's choice as reimbursement for the cost of their wives' trips.

"We understand that it doesn't make it right to do something because it wasn't criticised by the public before," they wrote. "And it is natural for the public to have a higher expectation of the democrats [because it is our job to] monitor the government."

On Thursday, Ho and To initially admitted being insensitive, but also suggested the trip was a business "exchange". However, hours later, the Democratic Party's central committee said its lawmakers' acceptance of Cathay's junket was inappropriate. It had yet to decide on any follow-up action, said party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, who apologised to the public.

Eight lawmakers travelled with a family member, either a spouse or child, from Hong Kong to Toulouse via Paris, and returned on Cathay's new aircraft. According to the airline's website, it costs at least HK$58,300 for a one-way business-class flight from Hong Kong to Paris.

Accounting lawmaker Kenneth Leung said he would donate at least HK$50,000 to charity.

"I asked Cathay Pacific how much it cost [for my wife to travel with me] and I may donate more than HK$50,000," Leung said.

Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por, who went to Britain with his wife on business before joining the group in France, said he gave HK$80,000 to the Hong Kong Red Cross because Cathay paid for their detour to London and the journey to Paris.

Elizabeth Quat, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and the Liberal Party's Felix Chung Kwok-pan were also planning to give to charity.

Lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who also went on the trip, and Cheng could not be reached for comment last night.