Beijing loyalists refuse to donate junket costs
Shirley Zhao and Stuart Lau
Executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong and lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, both Beijing loyalists, say they won't donate the costs of a six-day trip to France sponsored by Cathay Pacific, insisting it was all above board.
"I have already declared [the trip]," Cheng said. "I feel I've done all that I needed to do. I didn't breach any regulation, I won't give [the costs] back, and I have no budget to give it back."
Cheng, Ip and seven lawmakers each travelled with a relative - either a spouse or a child - from Hong Kong to Toulouse via Paris, and returned on a new Cathay aircraft last Wednesday.
A one-way business-class flight from Hong Kong to Paris costs at least HK$58,300, according to the airline's website.
The junket has prompted criticism about a potential conflict of interest after some lawmakers confirmed that during the trip, Cathay management reiterated the "importance" of an extra runway being built at the airport, and Cathay's opposition to potential rival Jetstar Hong Kong's bid for an air operator's licence.
Cheng said his discussions with Cathay managers during the trip mainly involved workplace relations, and that politicians and the media had for many years accepted sponsored trips. "I don't think it's a problem," he said, although he agreed that the declaration system should be reviewed and made stricter.
Ip, a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), also believed he had done nothing wrong.
"It was more about socialising," he said. "But the Legislative Council can discuss how to handle such tours in the future."
Elizabeth Quat, also of the DAB, earlier agreed to donate part of the cost of the free ticket to charity because she and her husband travelled to Germany en route.
Another pro-establishment lawmaker, Chan Kin-por, representing the insurance sector, went to Britain with his wife on business before joining the group in France. He said he had donated HK$80,000 to the Hong Kong Red Cross because Cathay paid for their detour to London, as well as the journey to Paris.
Felix Chung Kwok-pan, of the Liberal Party, said he would not mind making a donation "if that makes the public feel good".
Independent Ma Fung-kwok, who was also on the trip, could not be reached for comment.
Democrats Albert Ho Chun-yan and James To Kun-sun have pledged to donate HK$50,000 each to a charity of Cathay's choice as reimbursement for the cost of their wives' trips.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Kenneth Leung, representing the accounting sector, has said he would donate HK$100,000.