Car, bodyguards for former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang raise questions
While some ask how appropriate it is for a convicted person out on bail to take services at public expense, Democratic Party lawmaker says it is probably in order
Disgraced former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has received support from an unlikely quarter amid concerns that official protocol rules may have been breached by a government decision to provide him with a car and driver at the public’s expense following his release from prison.
The former chief executive was seen last Tuesday taking a seven-seater vehicle to church and to a Hong Kong Jockey Club restaurant with his wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, and a group of plain-clothes officers from the police VIP protection squad.
He had been freed a day earlier from Stanley Prison on HK$100,000 bail pending an appeal against his conviction earlier this year for misconduct in public office.
The vehicle, its driver and the bodyguards were paid for by the government under rules agreed by the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee in 2005, which backed a set of proposals by an independent commission on what a former chief executive should and should not be entitled to from the public purse.
A senior police officer who asked not to be identified questioned the provision of the vehicle and driver at public expense and the message it sent.
“The bodyguards I can understand, but given that Mr Tsang was convicted of misconduct in public office and that he held the most important position in the city, you might have thought that complete discretion when it came to the public purse would be employed – until all the legal proceedings have been completed,” the officer said.
“Would any other person convicted of a crime be given a vehicle – paid for by the taxpayer – to go to church and to their restaurant of choice while out on bail?”
However, Democratic Party lawmaker and former Independent Commission Against Corruption investigator Lam Cheuk-ting did not have an issue with it, even though he has been a vocal critic of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying over an ongoing two-year anti-graft probe into Leung’s non-declaration of a HK$50 million deal with Australian engineering firm UGL.
“I can understand why the government has continued to allow the package of measures agreed for former chief executives in this case. This is a rare situation and a borderline case,” Lam said.
“The provision of the vehicle and driver are closely connected to the core security detail and on this basis, it is probably the correct decision. I can see, however, why some people might want to look at the rules.”
A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said: “If any individual former chief executive cannot perform the promotional and protocol-related functions as set out in the Legislative Council Finance Committee paper ... the government will redeploy the relevant resources for other appropriate usage during the period.”
Former Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing, who chaired the Finance Committee which scrutinised the commission’s proposals in 2005, said: “It looks to me that given the wording of the rules, the government can argue that it has done nothing wrong. But from the other point of view, you could argue that the rules need to be looked at again given his capacity to perform the functions of an ex-chief executive.”
A spokesman for the government’s Administration Wing said: “The government has been providing Mr Donald Tsang with a car with driver service after his appointment as chief executive expired on 30 June 2012.
“The car is a Toyota Alphard seven-seater vehicle manufactured in 2012. The pay scale of the driver post is from $22,560 to $23,970 per month, and the average fuel expenditure over the last year is around $1,300 per month.”