New expense rules issued after ex-ICAC chief Tong's spending scandal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 3:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 3:58am

Officials may only give gifts which bear the name of a Hong Kong government body under a new set of guidelines established after a spending scandal involving former ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming.

The government yesterday circulated new rules to heads of bureaus and departments, regulating the purchase of gifts, alongside a revised set of rules on entertainment.

The guidelines resulted from a review of regulations with reference to the conclusions of an investigation by a government-appointed committee of Tong's use of public money.

The guidelines stipulate that gifts should only be exchanged between organisations and should always be inscribed with an official name or logo. The name or logo can be that of the Hong Kong government, the bureau, department or committee concerned, the Hong Kong regional flag or emblem, or the BrandHK logo used in government publicity work.

The restriction came after it was revealed in a Legislative Council public accounts committee (PAC) probe last year that the ICAC had purchased items such as silk scarves and food such as fish balls as gifts.

The guidelines require that gifts be given only when "necessary" or "unavoidable". Extravagant gifts are to be avoided. Books that promote Hong Kong are a good choice as a gift.

As for entertainment, caps on the costs of official lunches and dinners have been increased from HK$350 to HK$450 and from HK$450 to HK$600 per person, respectively, due to inflation. The limits do not apply to the government's mainland and overseas offices. The cost of all meal participants' food and drink must be calculated together.

The public accounts committee found that Tong had hosted two lavish dinners with public money. At one dinner, the cost of wine and dessert was calculated separately to avoid exceeding limits. The new rules prohibit that practice.

The spouses of hosting officials and guests are allowed if it is in the public interest. Tong was reported to have taken his girlfriend to official meals.

Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association chairman Chan Sai-kwing said he wanted further clarification.

"Why and under what circumstances should an official give a gift or invite guests to a meal? It should be only when it is beneficial for the promotion of Hong Kong government policies."