NO doubt Peter Nguyen, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), is ruing the day he wrote a memo to the Legal Department explaining the decision to limit legal work farmed out to counsel leaving the department as 'something to sell to Legco'. The damage done to the credibility of his, and the department's, efforts to root out abuse cannot be overstated. Mr Nguyen may be sincere in his wish to run a tighter ship and ensure the department is accountable for the public money it spends. But his memo suggests he is so in tune with the prevailing ethos that he may not be fully aware of where the weaknesses lie. However, the row over the memo should not distract us from the underlying scandal: the arrangement that permits former government lawyers to earn exceptionally high fees for continuing to conduct cases they handled while still with the department. Mr Nguyen did not invent the system. He is not personally responsible for approving the fee of $3,025 an hour, plus expenses, paid to a junior counsel, with no cap on the hours chargeable to the department. He is now carrying the can for the laxity and incompetence of others. Those directly responsible for the decisions and the subsequent payments have now left the department. They should be brought back to answer for themselves to Legco. But in the interim the buck surely cannot stop with Mr Nguyen. The Head of the Legal Department is the Attorney-General, Jeremy Mathews. Ultimate responsibility for the weaknesses and inadequacies of the department rests squarely with him. As an ex officio member of the legislature, it is he who should be answering questions from his Legco colleagues. It is he who should explain how former government lawyer Graham Grant could be paid $700,000 a month with no questions asked until Mr Nguyen was appointed DPP. Mr Grant was able to work the system, with official approval, to accumulate $17 million in just 30 months, while pursuing a case on behalf of the CCU. Mr Mathews should now be called on to reflect publicly on the amount involved - and on whether the interests of the taxpayer have been well-served by his department.