An aide to former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan was allowed to bypass the usual tender procedures to get a consultancy contract to promote the government's soon-to-be-released medical financing reform proposals.
The news, confirmed yesterday, sparked concerns about a conflict of interest. The government argued it was a normal case.
At the centre of the saga is Heidi Kwan Cheng Lai-man, Mr Hui's close aide and his press secretary during his term as chief secretary between 2005 and last year. Mrs Kwan also served Mr Hui when he ran the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority.
She set up a public relations consultancy firm, Asia Net Communications, in July.
In a written reply to inquiries, a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said: 'We did not open the tender because of the need to maintain the confidentiality of the content. We did a single tender because of urgency - it has to be completed in a short span of time.'
The spokesman declined to say how much money the contract involved.
In an interview on Commercial Radio, Democratic Party legislator Cheung Man-kwong said the saga had exposed a loophole in the so-called accountability system, introduced in 2002.
'There is no problem for a former aide of a senior official to set up a company after leaving government. But should there be some regulations? Say, in the first one or two years after departing the government, the company should not be allowed to take up government contracts.'