TOP government officials should consider taking taxis when they attend balls and other evening social functions, says independent legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing.
Her demand followed Director of Audit Dominic Chan Yin-tat's disclosure that many chauffeurs to top officials regularly work six hours' overtime a day.
Mr Chan said the overtime allowance for government drivers, which was $3.8 million in 1994-95, could be reduced by granting time off instead or rescheduling working hours.
At yesterday's Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee hearing, Ms Lau said officials should consider taking taxis when they attended social gatherings not related to their work.
'The drivers are simply waiting while the officials are dancing at the balls,' she said. 'If they went to their private gatherings by taxi, the drivers would not need to work so many hours overtime.' Secretary for Civil Service Michael Sze Cho-cheung said he sometimes took advantage of public transport.
'If Ms Lau invites me to lunch in Tsim Sha Tsui, I'll take the MTR there,' he said. Mr Sze's office is in Central.
Mr Sze said Ms Lau's suggestion was worth considering, but he doubted whether it was feasible.
'I need to discuss with my colleagues this suggestion, because using government cars and chauffeurs is one of their benefits,' he said.
'And it is appropriate for my colleagues to use government cars: for instance, Home Affairs Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung going to functions organised by charitable organisations.' Mr Suen's chauffeur put in the highest number of overtime hours, working an average of 192 hours overtime a month.
Mr Sze said it would be difficult to define what were private or official activities.
'It's hard for me to judge whether having lunch with Ms Lau is private or official as she is a Legco member and also my friend.
'I think it would be overstrict if we were to have guidelines defining what are private and what are official activities,' Mr Sze said.
He said the Government would consider having drivers sharing the workload for an official.
This would prevent a particular driver working too many hours overtime.