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  • Aug 2, 2014
  • Updated: 11:53pm
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EXPENSES SCANDAL

Tong says gifts were 'in spirit of courtesy'

Former ICAC chief defends his integrity and presents of food to organisation that gave him fruit, and saw serving mao-tai as sign of respect

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 3:44am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 3:44am

An HK$815 gift of beef brisket and fish balls came up for mention at a legislative hearing yesterday into the alleged lavish spending of former anti-corruption chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming.

Tong said he had acted in "courtesy of reciprocity" when he approved the purchase as a gift in return for lychees that guests had bought for the graft-busters.

The argument came as a last-ditch defence against criticism of Tong's spending on entertainment, gifts and official visits as Independent Commission Against Corruption commissioner.

Tong reiterated his claim to be "a man of integrity", saying his deeds had "nothing to do with corruption". He also refuted allegations he was the first ICAC chief to serve mao-tai - a Chinese hard liquor - at official events, though he conceded having made it a practice during his five-year tenure from 2007 to last year.

"I had never tried to conceal, lie, harbour personal motives or carry out underhanded dealings," he said in his concluding remarks. "I have made administrative mistakes, but these have nothing to do with corruption."

Tong was testifying at the last hearing of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee, which will deliver a report by the end of next month.

Committee chairman Abraham Razack would not be drawn on whether Tong lied at the hearing, but noted there were "inconsistencies in each of his answers".

Other members appeared dissatisfied with the evidence Tong gave as he tried to explain a string of violations unveiled in a report released last month.

Questions were raised on the purchase of beef brisket and fish balls as an organisation-to-organisation gift, as lawmakers delved into why Tong, as ICAC chief, would concern himself with the exchange of such gifts.

Tong said the items were bought in return for lychees the agency had received. "It was in the spirit of a courtesy of reciprocity that we decided to give in return gifts of a similarly perishable nature," he said.

Paul Tse Wai-chun asked whether, on occasion, the ICAC's gifts could have been more than "symbolic". Tse cited three scarves, costing HK$400 to HK$2,090, bought for another organisation. The items could have violated ICAC policy on the exchange of gifts, which must "be limited to the minimum on official occasions".

On the serving of mao-tai, Tong said: "The ICAC served 11 bottles of hard liquor from 2004 to 2005 [under then commissioner Raymond Wong Hung-chiu] so I am not the first one. I see the practice as a form of respect to guests."

Last month, an independent review committee appointed by the ICAC reported that Tong had breached the rules on 42 occasions - two of them incurring criminal liability - during his five-year reign. The Public Accounts Committee is looking at whether the ICAC has been prudent in using public money and will report in November. Legco has also set up a select committee, which has yet to start its hearings.

On top of these inquiries, Tong is also under an ICAC criminal investigation.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

johnfra
Having the ICAC to investigate the "criminal investigation" is just not proper, as Tong was its previous head and his previous "subordinates" would be taking up the task to do the investigation. It is also contrary to natural justice as some lawyers would argue. The investigation, to be fair to the community and not least to Tong himself, should be conducted by another organisation, the police for example.
It also seems not quite right to appoint government servants from other government departments to the ICAC. where is the INDEPENDENT in that? The head of this organisation, I nearly said Department, should be drawn from ideally academia or professional classes. My personal choice would be an international newsman.
maecheung
The LEGCO is a place supposedly to initiate and pass legislation to improve the governance of the city/state, and to improve the livelihood of her citizens. If there is a criminal investigation going on, I just don't see a need for LEGCO to keep calling Mr. Tong to explain his actions, which may jeopardize any future legal proceedings. It's just a WASTE of taxpayers' money!
Giwaffe
Interesting point how former commissioner Raymond Wong Hung-chui also served "11 bottles of hard liquor from 2004 to 2005". This seems to imply that just because the last chief did so, then it's ok for the current to do so as well. What twisted logic is this? What if the last chief committed murder?
Instead, it seems that a public enquiry should be called into the past dealings of the ICAC to see what sort of behavior "precedence" has been set by former commissioners. The enquiry will need to investigate back to at least 1997.
impala
Mr Tong doesn't get it. At all. And I am not entirely sure if the investigating LegCo members get it either. Only in the Hong Kong SBR can an inquiry like this descend to a sad and sorry level where we are discussing fish balls and beef brisket.

The ICAC is a powerful and important law enforcement agency with broad investigative abilities. Its is vital that its head (and other employees) stays well clear of anything that may influence, or even just seem to influence his impartiality.

Accepting or offering gifts does not fit in that. Period. Hosting or even just attending lavish dinners with or without hard liquor on the table doesn't either.

How can you be a bastion of transparency, objectivity and anti-corruption if you engage in the usual Hong Kong carousel of gift giving, meal treats and 'networking' (I rub your back, you rub mine) like any ordinary politician or businessman?

The head of the ICAC should insulate himself as much as possible from all of that. The ICAC does not depend on other people's kindness. It does not need to play nice, secure grants, gestures of goodwill or lobby for policy. It just needs to be stern, strict and do its job of relentlessly investigating anything that smells like corruption, public or private.

A fruitless discussion about whether HKD 825 of beef brisket and fish balls is in line with the letter of the ICAC gift policy is really missing the larger point that the ICAC should just be a gift-free zone completely.
maecheung
Very Well Said Indeed! Our LEGCO members are nothing but a bunch of Losers! They actually have nothing better to do. LEGCO rhymes with RUBBISH in Cantonese.
Giwaffe
@jve: I could not have written a better post myself.

Hear hear! Gift free zone indeed!
rpasea
"Tong reiterated his claim to be "a man of integrity", saying his deeds had "nothing to do with corruption"."
-
And this is the man put in charge of the ICAC.
John Adams
I agree.
I must also say that although it's not fair to judge a man just by his outward appearance, Mr Tong looks to me more like a triad leader - or at least a used car salesman - than the kind of man who instills confidence both from his staff and from the public.
(Actually I never heard him before all this latest stuff , so it seems he kept a pretty low public profile : that's maybe because he was always on holiday in China or wining and dining mainland big wigs )
Sir Jack Cater was hardly what you would call a handsome man, but hi had honesty written all over his face.
maecheung
Who put him in charge? No one but the self claimed man of integrity himself, Mr. Bow Tie! That answers all questions doesn't it?
skywalker
January 26, 1998: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman...". That was Bill Clinton. But I am more worries about the inflation in HK. 825 HKD for beef brisket and fish balls? Prices are really getting ridiculously high here.

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