Anson Chan Fang On-sang criticised the construction industry and lawyers yesterday, warning that Hong Kong's reputation would suffer if standards dropped because of the recession. The Chief Secretary for Administration said the community had to tighten its belt in times of economic hardship and the professions were no exception. 'At the same time, tightening belts must not be allowed to mean any loosening or lowering of standards. 'It does our reputation no good at all if we are seen to let standards slip. 'And it does the professions' reputation no good if they give the appearance of caring more for the maintenance of fee levels set in times of plenty, as we have seen recently in a Housing Department tender exercise, than the preservation of professional standards and ethical conduct, which should be timeless,' Mrs Chan told a British Chamber of Commerce lunch. She was referring to the Law Society's decision last month to ask solicitors' firms bidding for legal work on a Housing Authority project to bid no less than $3,500 per flat. The authority accused the society of trying to undermine the tender exercise. Turning to the construction industry and the series of scandals concerning defective foundations in public housing projects, Mrs Chan said the Government agreed with findings in a recent Independent Commission Against Corruption review. She said the ICAC found the links between some supervisors and contractors had moved beyond the ordinary 'working relationship, where they not only worked together, but also socialised and gambled together'. 'Even though this might not be strictly speaking, a conflict of interest, it made it difficult for the parties to be scrupulously fair in discharging their duties. Clearly, this type of corporate culture needs to be discouraged.' Mrs Chan said the Government backed ICAC proposals for stricter demarcation between supervisors and workers and increased site supervision by management and structural engineers. 'The misdemeanours of individuals scandalise and, therefore, have a disproportionately negative impact on, the public perception of the profession as a whole. 'We must maintain competition, but we cannot afford any decline in standards,' she said. The top civil servant said it was an essential underpinning of the rule of law for the professions to insist on the best business practices and the highest ethical standards. But Raymond Ho Chung-tai, who represents engineers and surveyors in the Legislative Council, rejected Mrs Chan's criticism as unfair, and said: 'She doesn't understand the industry. 'In times of both economic boom and gloom, our professional association sticks to the same strict standards. The recent piling problem has nothing to do with professional standards, but management of the Housing Department.' Legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who represents the legal sector, said the profession was more able than the Government to take care of its standards. 'We care about our own reputation,' she said.