Storm clouds gather over Wiggham Mansion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 1993, 12:00am

OUTGOING Secretary for the Civil Service Mr Barrie Wiggham is to move into a $12 million mansion in Washington as a perk of his new job as Hongkong's first ''ambassador'' to the United States.

The luxurious residence, complete with two servants and a $780,000 redecoration allowance, was chosen by Mr Wiggham while on a recent official trip to the US.

Government Property Agency officials have flown to Washington to negotiate the purchase of the property, which is on Armat Drive in the fashionable suburb of Bethesda, known for its expensive houses, chic shops and trendy restaurants.

Although negotiations are understood to be in the final stages, after the original US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) asking price was reduced to US$1.5 million, Legislative Councillors have been told nothing of the move.

And the revelation has fuelled a growing row over the choice of Mr Wiggham to fill the specially-created position of Hongkong Commissioner for Economic and Trade Affairs in the US.

Legislators are threatening to block the appointment, amid accusations of ''jobs for the boys'', and a fierce discussion is expected when the establishment sub-committee this week grills Government officials on the creation of the post.

Councillors claim Mr Wiggham was given the job as compensation for not being made Chief Secretary, and say a local officer with experience of trade affairs should have been appointed.

The 13-strong United Democrats have threatened to vote down funds for the post unless the Government comes up with a satisfactory explanation. Legislator Mr Cheung Man-kwong said the group was concerned such posts were being created simply as ''rewards''.

''Is the Government suggesting that every retiring top official be given an expensive job?'' he said. ''We have the case of [Sir David] Akers-Jones in the past and now comes Wiggham and possibly Sir David Ford, too.'' Sir David has been tipped to take up the post of Hongkong Commissioner to Europe when he steps down as Chief Secretary this year.

''This is jobs for the boys,'' said independent legislator Mr Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen.

Mr Wiggham, who expects to take up the job in August, has declined to respond to the attacks.

However, Secretary for Trade and Industry Mr Brian Chau Tak-hay defended the purchase of the mansion and the choice of Mr Wiggham.

''There's no point in having these offices if we're going to run them on a shoestring,'' he said. ''We have been looking for several years for a more senior officer to go to Washington and we were very lucky to get Barrie.''