Legislators told paper shuffling too much of a chore

THE CUSTOMARY behind-the-scenes argy bargy went on at the Legislative Council this week when the Government tried to get the go-ahead to underwrite aviation insurance for six months.

The request was rejected out of hand during a bargaining break, and the time limit cut to three months. But once back in the council chamber, legislators ruled that out, too. At the next bargaining break, Secretary for Economic Services Sandra Lee Suk-yee explained that her department suggested six months because there would be too much paperwork involved if she had to keep returning to the council to have the term extended.

And how many sheets of A4 were involved in the first request? Four. Daunting workload, wasn't it? And this from a civil service with a productivity pledge.

Legco President Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai's word is law in the council chamber, but out of the office, things are different. When she asked her husband to ban legislators from visiting her at hospital after a breast-cancer operation, she probably did not expect some of her more independent-minded colleagues to obey.

No sooner had the decree gone out than Frontier legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing made her appearance at Mrs Fan's bedside. Ms Lau is not one to take orders, and was determined to say hello and wish Mrs Fan well.

Members leave political differences behind in the debating chamber, hence the reason another 'opponent', Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, also insisted on visiting Rita with good wishes.

However, Mrs Fan's husband told reporters at the opening of his wife's office at Sai Wan Ho this week that he teased Mr Lee about Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum - whom the barrister-politician is representing in a court case - saying Ms Wang could be more in need of cheering up than Mrs Fan.

Reporters got a nasty shock after a briefing by the chairman of the Culture and Heritage Commission, Chang Hsin-kang. They were left with the bill for the room and the tea after Mr Chang and officials of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department forgot to settle up before leaving.

Impoverished hacks declined to produce the $2,500 demanded by hotel staff. The manager then rang Lower Albert Road and was assured that the department, a long-term patron of the Tsim Sha Tsui hotel, would definitely pay the bill, but later. We know times are hard, but is the civil service trying to live on credit now?

Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang Yam-kuen took a low-key stroll through the MTR station at Quarry Bay yesterday on his way to the opening of the underground railway system's new interchange at North Point. No media were in sight as he passed through the Quarry Bay station, only to get off at the next stop, where the new facility was being opened. Though the Chief Secretary obviously supports the MTR, it might have been a better idea for him to catch the train from Central to Quarry Bay, rather than travel there in his chauffeur-driven limousine.

When a Post reporter inquired about the condition of SAR tourist Wat Siu-kee, badly injured in the Sichuan province bus crash on Sunday, the doctor in charge informed him: 'He doesn't have any cash in his pockets, and we have not had any companies contacting us to say they will cover medical expenses. But we are still doing our best to save him.'

Isn't that heartwarming? The reporter repeated that he was interested in the patient's well-being not his wallet, but all he got in reply was another reminder that Mr Wat had not paid upfront for medical treatment.