Equal Opportunities Commission

Fears of conflict over Lam roles persist

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2012, 12:00am

About 12 per cent of complaints handled by the Equal Opportunities Commission over the past five years concerned government bodies, the equality watchdog said yesterday.

The issue came to the fore in the past week amid criticism of EOC chairman Lam Woon-kwong's decision to accept the position of Executive Council convenor. Critics of his appointment said it risked creating a conflict of interest for Lam if the EOC took action against the administration.

Of 4,844 complaints lodged under the anti-discrimination ordinances between January 2007 and last month, 580 targeted the government.

A lobby group planning to take the government to court, with the EOC's help, over language teaching for ethnic minorities says it will have to rethink its approach to the case, having earlier discussed it with Lam.

The group, Hong Kong Unison, fears Lam's decision to keep his EOC job and serve as Exco convenor will affect the case, its executive director, Fermi Wong Wai-fun, said yesterday.

Wong said she had told Lam just before his Exco appointment about the group's strategy for taking the Education Bureau to court.

'We now have to map out a new set of strategies,' Wong said. 'If the education chief [Eddie Ng Hak-kim] asks Lam what the Education Bureau can do to avoid being sued by us, I wonder what advice Lam can give.'

The case is the only specific example so far put forward of a possible conflict of interest arising from Lam's dual role by critics of the arrangement. Lam, who had come under pressure to give up one of the two roles, said on Wednesday he would serve out his term as EOC chairman, which ends in January.

Meanwhile, two EOC members questioned its system for members to declare their interests.

Dr John Tse Wing-ling called the system 'very basic'.

'Lam has reiterated that, as Exco chairman, he is just a government adviser, so I wonder if he will declare his interest in case of any conflicts involving the government,' Tse said.

Frederick Fung Kin-kee, who was one of the staunchest critics of Lam playing a dual role and who has said he will resign from the EOC now Lam is staying on Exco, said declarations of interest for commission members were voluntary.

But the commission said members, including the chairman, were required to disclose their general interests on appointment, and to declare interests when a matter up for discussion involves a possible conflict of interest.