'Conflict of interest' questions over research cash for think tank
A pan-democratic lawmaker has questioned the top government advisory body about a possible conflict of interest, after it awarded four out of 11 funded consultancy studies to a think tank close to its chief.
Doubts were cast on a decision by the Central Policy Unit, led by Shiu Sin-por, to grant more than HK$2.1 million in research funding over three years to the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, which Shiu used to head.
Three of the contracts, for which HK$1.9 million has been set aside, are to study the trend of discussions on social and political issues in the mass media.
"Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was the institute's chairman while Shiu was an executive director," lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, told the Legislative Council Finance Committee yesterday. "The research topics are politically sensitive. Is there a conflict of interest?"
Executive Council member Cheung Chi-kong now heads the institute. Its chairman is property tycoon Ronnie Chan Chichung, a staunch Leung supporter.
The other seven projects went to the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. The policy unit's deputy head Olivia Nip said it applied an internal set of guidelines, over and above the government's procurement process, when vetting tender proposals, to safeguard against any conflict of interests.
"We want to prevent giving the public any misconceptions," Nip said. "Shiu was not involved in the vetting procedures."
Cheung said the policy unit and the institute shared "a pure client-consultant relationship". "All the jobs were obtained through proper channels."
Alice Lau Yim, permanent secretary of the Chief Executive's Office, told lawmakers the government had asked information co-ordinator Andrew Fung Wai-kwong if he had published any article under a pseudonym - which would have required prior government approval - but "did not have any information".
Lau said: "There was written communication, but we cannot reveal any details."