Finance secretary John Tsang Chun-wah told a Legislative Council select committee hearing yesterday he resolved the issue of chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying's conflict of interest over the West Kowloon arts hub design competition 10 years ago without telling his bosses, although he agreed it was a serious matter.
The opening day of the probe into whether Leung, who was on the jury, failed to declare a conflict of interest before voting on entries heard that another juror from Britain failed to declare business links with British architect Norman Foster. Foster's plan eventually won the West Kowloon Reclamation Concept Plan Competition 2001, raising concerns that the government may have applied double standards when handling Leung's case.
Testifying under oath, Tsang, who was then secretary for planning and lands and oversaw the competition, said 'it was a fact' when asked by the Civic Party's Tanya Chan whether he thought it was a serious matter.
Tsang said that out of courtesy he had had a word with Leung minutes before the jury met to be informed of the names of the anonymous winning entries for which they had voted, so Leung could get 'mentally prepared' to explain what had happened.
'The adjudication work was independently done by the jury. Leung's case was dealt with internally. I did not report to my superiors,' Tsang said. There had been rumours that then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa had covered up Leung's case.
Leung had declared on a form that he was 'not a director or major shareholder of any company' although his surveying firm DTZ was named as a property adviser by an entry submitted by Malaysian architect Ken Yeang, which was later disqualified.
Tsang said he did not see the need to follow up the matter further after the jury disqualified Yeang's entry.
Eric Johnson, former principal assistant secretary for planning and lands, would not comment whether Tsang handled the case properly but said he felt Leung's case was a 'potentially serious matter'.
'Everyone [at the jury meeting] was a little bit stunned actually at this late-breaking event... the jury realised that this was a bit disappointing, but there was only one solution really, and that was to disqualify the entry,' Johnson said.
Meanwhile, juror's declaration forms disclosed yesterday showed that juror Peter Rogers, a director of developer Stanhope, did not register his firm's two deals with Foster's firm at the time. Independent lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun questioned why the government still allowed Foster to win despite the conflict, but Johnson declined to comment.
The inquiry also heard that before the jury voted Foster's scheme was, categorised as one of those 'failing to meet the requirements of the competition brief in important respects', rather than disqualified as previously reported, according to Bosco Fung Chee-keung, former director of planning who chaired a technical panel of the competition.
The hearing continues on Tuesday when Leung will testify.