Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim came under attack from lawmakers yesterday for spending more than HK$2.6 million on 13 working trips outside the city in the past 18 months.
The amount - more than Ng's predecessor Michael Suen Ming-yeung spent in his whole five-year term - averages more than HK$200,000 a trip, well above the HK$140,000 a trip spent by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
"How can you make people trust you with such a performance?" Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok asked.
Ng said all the information about the trips was publicly available and people could find out how the money had been spent.
He said many visits were information-gathering trips with education-sector representatives looking at issues such as how to improve kindergarten education and how to apply information technology in schools.
"Every year we have some visits and exchanges on the occasions of festivals and celebrations," he said during a Legislative Council question-and-answer session. "We've been doing this for many years," the education minister added.
The chief executive has spent HK$2.9 million on 21 official visits since assuming office 20 months ago. Suen spent HK$2.4 million during his term.
Ng's overseas destinations have included Britain, Canada, the United States, Korea, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand.
He also visited Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nansha, Shanghai and Beijing.
Legislators questioned the vague details surrounding one trip, which the spending report said was simply "to attend a ceremonial function on the mainland". Ng did not elaborate.
The meeting also heard that about 25,000 local Hong Kong students were studying masters' programmes in local universities, a drop of about 11 per cent from 2011, while the number from elsewhere, including mainland postgraduate students, had increased 160 per cent to 13,000 this year from 5,000 in 2011.
Legislators questioned whether the public money and resources given to local universities really benefited local people. Permanent Secretary for Education Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching said the decrease was a result of fewer local students applying.