‘Plug loophole’ in wake of Cathay junket: Joseph Wong

Joseph Wong, former civil service secretary, weighs in on storm over free France trips, saying rules on appointees should apply to lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 5:11am

Lawmakers should face the same rules as political appointees in declaring their interests, a former minister said yesterday in the wake of a political storm after 10 lawmakers accepted free trips to France from Cathay Pacific.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former secretary of the civil service, said there was a gaping loophole in the Legislative Council's declaration system that needed fixing.

Under the current requirement, there is no problem as long as lawmakers declare their junkets to Legco. "But the crux is should they accept such overly generous offers in the beginning?
Joseph Wong Wing-ping

The legislators were criticised for accepting Cathay's hospitality because there could have been a potential conflict of interest.

Under the current system, lawmakers must declare taking such trips to Legco, but do not need permission to go.

A political appointee, however - ministers, their assistants and undersecretaries - would require the permission of the chief executive. Political appointees are asked to avoid accepting any gift or hospitality that might appear to compromise their judgment or place them under an improper obligation.

"Under the current requirement, there is no problem as long as lawmakers declare their junkets to Legco," said Wong. "But the crux is should they accept such overly generous offers in the beginning?"

He urged Legco to adopt similar standards to that governing political appointees. One possibility, Wong said, would be for lawmakers to be required to get permission from Legco's Committee on Members' Interests.

The lawmaker for the information technology sector, Charles Mok, unnerved by the recent storm, declared that he had accepted a free visit and dinner offered by Hong Kong Disneyland last October.

"I know it is not compulsory to declare this non-overseas visit, but I think it would be better for me to do so as I took along my niece," said Mok. He said Disney organised free visits for lawmakers every year when it launched its Halloween events.

The chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Emily Lau Wai-hing, who was also one of Disney's guests, said Mok had overreacted. But she agreed that the Committee on Members' Interests should revise its rules to avoid ambiguity as soon as Legco resumed after the summer break.

As vice-chairwoman of the committee, Lau said it should explore the possibility of putting a cap on the maximum amount of hospitality or advantages that lawmakers could accept.

According to the register of lawmakers' interests, Cathay Pacific has organised 15 junkets for lawmakers since 2005. Real estate lawmaker Abraham Razack and former Democratic Party lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming declared they attended such junkets in a personal capacity.

But Lau questioned their rationale, asking: "Why would Cathay Pacific invite them if they are not lawmakers? They cannot have it both ways!"

Cathay Pacific refused to reveal in what capacity it invited them. Two board members of the Airport Authority - lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan and Huen Wong - were on the France trips.

An authority spokesman said board members needed to declare their interests to the board chairman only if they attended a junket in their capacity as an authority member.

Former lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee, who is also an authority board member, suggested tightening the rules by requiring those who accepted junkets in any capacity to declare their interests. "There is no so-called personal capacity … The Airport Authority as a public body should be more transparent," she said.