Ex-lawmaker Sin Chung-kai took six Microsoft junkets abroad

Sin Chung-kai denies any conflict of interest despite the big difference in software giant's treatment of his successors amid policy shift

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 4:07am

Lawmaker Sin Chung-kai took six sponsored trips on three continents paid for by Microsoft's Hong Kong branch when he was an information technology sector legislator, but his successors have not received any such invitations from the software giant.

The difference in the way the company treated Sin versus his successors has come to media attention amid heated debate over a possible conflict of interest created by a recent Cathay Pacific junket taken by two of Sin's fellow Democratic Party lawmakers, other legislators and an Executive Council member.

Sin, who represents the Hong Kong Island constituency, went on five Microsoft junkets between 2004 and 2008, and another between 2000 and 2004, according to the Legislative Council's register of members' interests. The trips were to the United States, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.

But both of his successors, Samson Tam Wai-ho and the incumbent Charles Mok, said Microsoft had never invited them on overseas visits during their time in Legco.

Asked about the trips he took, Sin said there was "no room" for him to have advanced the interests of the world's largest software maker in Legco, and that there had been a "real need" for him to take the trips. "Lawmakers have to keep abreast of global trends," he said. "I have no decision-making power that can affect Microsoft in the legislature."

A Microsoft Hong Kong spokeswoman said that on two of the trips, Sin was invited in the capacity of an honorary advisory board member of the company's Partners in Learning education programme. Sin's successor, Tam, "did not serve on any of our honorary advisory boards during his term", she said.

But this contradicted information on the company's website, which stated Tam, in his capacity as an IT legislator, was on the programme's advisory board.

The two trips the Microsoft spokeswoman mentioned were to Australia in 2006 and to Japan in 2007, during which Sin was fully sponsored for five and four days, respectively.

The other trips he took included a government leaders' forum and a visit to the company's executive briefing centre in the US.

Sin paid transport costs for two trips, the Legco members' interests register showed. He said he could not comment on the difference in Microsoft's treatment of himself and Tam.

Tam, who served in Legco from 2008 to 2012, said: "I've been treated to meals and invited to speak at forums, but all were local-level activities."

The former independent pro-government lawmaker, who last year lost his seat to pan-democrat Mok, said he had a policy of turning down all overseas invitations to avoid conflicts of interest.

"But there were none from Microsoft," he said.

Tam said that as an IT legislator, it would be hard not to come into contact with Microsoft when discussing policy.

"Microsoft products are used in most government departments, so the broad direction of using open-source software adopted by the government in recent years is against Microsoft's interests," he said.

Incumbent Mok, who has been in the job for a year, said he had not received any invitations from Microsoft so far, and that he "would not consider one if the trip is during the Legco session".