Executive councillors are trusted to declare conflicts of interest to ensure "impartial and fair" policymaking, the trial of former chief secretary and Exco member Rafael Hui Si-yan was told yesterday.
Exco clerk Kinnie Wong Kit-yee made this point as the first evidence was given in the Court of First Instance corruption trial involving Hui, the Kwok brothers of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) and two others.
Prosecutors have alleged that Hui, 66, failed to disclose his interests with SHKP - including the receipt of millions of dollars and the extension of unsecured loans - when he was an Exco member in his capacity as chief secretary from 2005 to 2007 and unofficial member until 2009.
Wong, the first witness in the trial, was asked by prosecutor David Perry QC if Exco practice involved "trusting a member" when declaring interests, and whether a member had to declare payments from another source or the provision of services for a client.
She agreed regular disclosures of such matters were required to "uphold the government's policy of openness".
Hui is alleged to have received HK$34 million in cash and other inducements from SHKP co-chairmen Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and two others, without disclosing them. The prosecution alleges he was paid to be the "inside man" and "eyes and ears" of the developer in the government.
Hui nodded when Wong said in the witness box: "Members cannot attend [Exco] meetings or be involved in the discussions on occasions where there are direct relations between the interests ... and the matters to be discussed."
Under the system, she said when members offered advice, they must be "impartial and fair".
In Tsang's letter, provided by the prosecution, the former chief executive described his former chief secretary as his "most reliable colleague and confidante", thanking him for his candour.
"Looking back, Rafael, you unselfishly answered the call to serve the community at a time of considerable difficulty for Hong Kong and the government," Tsang said in the letter.
"My job would most certainly have been much more difficult and overwhelming had I not been able to depend on your good counsel and friendship," Tsang was quoted as writing to the man now facing eight charges relating to bribery and misconduct in public office.
Tsang wrote that Hui "set high standards of intellectual rigour and efficiency" and impressed him with his "candour, insight and decisiveness".
Thomas Kwok, 62, faces one charge of conspiracy to offer an advantage to Hui and two of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Raymond Kwok, 61, faces four charges, including one with Hui of furnishing false information. SHKP executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, 67, and former Hong Kong stock exchange official Francis Kwan Hung-sang, 63, each face two charges. All pleaded not guilty.