Anti-corruption commission seeks to overhaul rules on officers' conduct

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 5:00am

The graft-buster is set to overhaul its rules for officers' conduct in an effort to "remove the ambiguities" after the scandal over former chief Timothy Tong Hin- ming's spending exposed a string of violations.

Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu announced the review yesterday after attending a Legislative Council hearing at which community relations director Julie Mu Fee-man was heavily criticised for overlooking the rules during Tong's tenure.

"It will be a very radical review to remove the ambiguities and update the whole of the commission standing orders," Peh said.

The standing orders - described as "the bible" by Peh - list the administrative rules, including the handling of expenses, to which the officers must adhere.

Yesterday's hearing marked the first time Mu had responded to the report of an independent panel that studied the ICAC's spending on entertainment, gifts and official visits between 2007 and 2012.

Her department was cited for several breaches and Mu emerged as the main target for members of the Public Accounts Committee who asked her to clarify her role yesterday.

According to the report, the community relations department was the only one in the ICAC that excluded the cost of alcohol from entertainment expenditures and claimed it separately. The graft-buster introduced a form to address the issue in 2008, but the department stopped using it 18 months later. It also failed to follow a revised standing order in 2009 that stated that "food, beverages and tips" should all be included in the expenditure per person.

Mu said it was "a long-time practice" for her department to handle expenditures in the way it did and said the administrative branch had failed to "highlight the changes" when the form and the standing orders were revised. She added that the beverages were prepared according to Tong's orders and had his approval.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit said the department's practice provided the leeway for Tong, who is said to have enjoyed strong spirits, to evade the expenditure cap and serve Chinese mao-tai at receptions.

Mu, who strongly denied the claim, said: "It is a totally unfair criticism of my colleagues. There was no cover-up of the irregularities."

She conceded there were "inadequacies" in the preparation of Tong's duty trip to Yunnan in 2008, to which a sightseeing trip to Lijiang - with flight tickets paid for by taxpayers' money - was added without the chief executive's approval.

Tong said on Wednesday that the chief executive's approval of a trip to Yunnan meant it could cover the whole province.

Mu said yesterday that she did not join the trip and did not recall whether she had had a chance to advise Tong that it was not business related.

"Looking back the trip was largely for fun," she said.

Independent lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said the sightseeing trip had given the public an impression that Tong was building up his personal network by using public money and the ICAC's arrangement for duty trips was "unprofessional".

Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-Ting, a former ICAC investigator, said all officers had to follow the latest standing orders and it was "never the administrative branch's responsibility to explain the rules".

Chairman Abraham Razack said the committee would summon Tong for another hearing in coming weeks and would seek to publish a report by November.