Pro-establishment lawmakers are expected to dominate a new Legislative Council select committee that will examine former ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming's allegedly lavish spending during his five-year tenure.
The committee, to be set up in the next few weeks, is to invite witnesses to testify but has no power to summon them or require the revelation of documents. Pan-democrats, however, hope it will be a step towards forcing a more complete inquiry.
It is the third platform in the legislature to look into reports that Tong used public money to host more than 20 meals for top office-holders from the central government's liaison office.
The committee came about through an unprecedented petition filed yesterday by the Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan and the Civic Party's Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, after their bid to invoke Legco's powers to examine the scandal was vetoed last week.
The pair were supported by 23 other pan-democrats. None from the pro-establishment camp backed the petition.
Ho expressed hope that they might yet be able to summon witnesses and documents by law.
"If the key people in the controversy refuse to testify before the committee, the mounting public pressure might allow us to activate the power and privileges ordinance later," Ho said.
She added that Legco's House Committee would discuss the size of the select committee and its scope of inquiry shortly, but acknowledged pro-establishment members would probably dominate the new committee.
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said party members disagreed with the petition because the new committee's work would overlap with investigative efforts by Legco's Public Accounts Committee - which is to look into audit report claims about two lavish dinners as well as procedures governing hospitality and expenditure - and the security panel, of which he was chairman.
The panel will look into the role of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in handling receptions.
"But we have no reason to boycott [an inquiry] either, otherwise we would be irresponsible to the public," Ip said. He said the pro-establishment camp would like to take eight out of 13 seats on the committee "to reflect the power balance in the council".
Ip said government officials had no reason not to co-operate with the select committee.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in Legco that the government would handle the case seriously in order to maintain confidence in the ICAC.
She said the administration might cancel, suspend or reduce pensions granted to a retired civil servant who was convicted of a criminal offence related to his public service.
An ICAC spokesman said it had always been willing to provide full assistance upon requests from Legco. The anti-graft agency would consider attending the committee's meetings if it was invited, he said.
Last night, Wang Zhimin, a deputy director of the liaison office, described the receptions Tong had hosted for his officials as "normal exchanges".
Additional reporting by Danny Mok