The government has admitted asking the public if finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah should quit over this year's budget fiasco - and said it was not the first time it had polled people on the performance of top officials.
But in a move that has drawn fire from lawmakers, it has refused to disclose the polls, saying to do so would hurt its ability to run future polls.
Officials will only say that the controversial poll, carried out in March by the government's top think tank, the Central Policy Unit, was to 'collect public views on the budget'.
Lawmakers criticised what they described as the increasing secrecy of the taxpayer-funded CPU, arguing it has become a tool for the government to manipulate public opinion.
'[The CPU] has commissioned an institution to collect public views on the 2011-12 budget and their response to some incidents in the community,' acting Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung told the Legislative Council yesterday. 'The results were for government's internal reference only.'
Asked if the CPU had previously conducted polls on whether an official should resign, Lam said: 'The CPU has conducted opinion polls on similar subjects before.'
A South China Morning Post request for the findings of the CPU's budget poll made under the Code of Access to Information was turned down by the administration 'to ensure objectivity of the surveys'.
'Survey results are not made available to the public ... so as not to influence the public over their attitudes ... Such disclosure would also prejudice the proper and efficient conduct of operations of the CPU,' a letter from the administration said.
The phone survey, which came to light in March, asked if respondents agreed with the finance chief's budget U-turn to give a direct HK$6,000 handout to all holders of permanent ID cards aged 18 and over, and if the government was facing a crisis of governance.
The survey, conducted by Chinese University's Centre for Communication Research, then asked: should John Tsang resign over the budget controversy?
CPU head Professor Lau Siu-kai has disclosed the 'internal' survey findings to substantiate his viewpoints during media interviews from time to time.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post in March, when talking about the city's participation in the 12th national five-year plan, Lau said: 'About 70 per cent in our polls said they wanted Hong Kong to take part and hoped the central government would state clear support for particular development items relating to Hong Kong.'
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan questioned the CPU's selectivity over survey disclosures. 'The CPU surveys are funded by public money so the public should have the right to know,' she said. 'There is no check and balance on the CPU when their works are kept secret.'
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the CPU was increasingly serving the administration's own purpose. Citing an anonymous 'former survey conductor', To said previous CPU surveys had asked such self-serving questions as 'Do you think [former legislator] Martin Lee Chu-ming is a traitor?' and 'Do you think [former chief secretary] Anson Chan Fang On-sang suddenly turned democratic?'