Budget details off limits to advisers

THE four Hong Kong advisers to the Chinese expert team will be barred from attending meetings that touch on 'concrete figures about the budget', according to Lu Ping, the mainland official in charge of Hong Kong.

Mr Lu, the director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said this was one of the measures that would be adopted to prevent conflicts of interests.

Last month, China named four members of the Preliminary Working Committee - Nellie Fong Wong Kut-man, Shao You-bao, Sir Sze-yuen Chung and Philip Wong Yu-hong - to participate in talks at the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group on the transition of the budget.

But Financial Secretary-designate Donald Tsang Yam-kuen raised concern of a conflict of interest in local people participating in the talks.

Mr Lu, who is visiting Wuxi with 59 Hong Kong Affairs Advisers, said China would deal with the problem of conflict of interest properly.

'We will not allow them [the four advisers] to participate in meetings that involve concrete budget figures. They are aware of that.

'Also, they have to stick to the confidentiality rule and cannot leak [details] to others.' Mr Lu also revealed that the four advisers would advise the Chinese team only, and they would not necessarily participate in the drafting of the 1996-97 or 1997-98 budget.

In response to a challenge over the advisers' expertise on public finances, the director asked for a definition of an expert and questioned whether the Financial Secretary could be considered as one.

Mr Lu explained that China invited the four advisers to the expert team because they wanted Hong Kong people with knowledge of budget-drafting procedures.

Meanwhile, a Chinese source said Beijing wanted talks with the Hong Kong Government on the drafting of the 1996-97 budget as it wanted to know how any forecast would shape its economic growth over the next few years.