When Legco was last year wrestling with proposed laws to govern smoking in restaurants, three members of the Legislative Council boarded an aircraft at Chek Lap Kok en route to Thailand, Norway and Ireland. Cheng Kar-foo, Li Kwok-ying and Cheung Yu-yan are all members of the panel on health services. They were on a study trip to see how authorities in Bangkok, Oslo and Dublin handle bans on smoking in public. The visit cost $119,608.96, most of which was paid for by the public. Did taxpayers get their money's worth from this jaunt? Well, not yet, obviously, because cigar addicts are still poisoning innocent people in expensive restaurants and wine bars. In September last year four members from a Legco sub-committee on combating poverty went to Britain and Ireland to see how those countries cope with the underprivileged. The five-day trip by Fung Kin-kee, Lee Cheuk-yan, Cheung Chi-hung and Leung Kwok-hung cost $103,815.94. What did they achieve? Looking at Legco duty trips, what really raised my interest was an 11-day, $326,055 visit last month by five members of the panel on information technology and broadcasting. The three core members of this group were Albert Cheng Jing-han, Emily Lau Wai-hing and panel chairman Sin Chung-Kai. They travelled to Canada, the United States and Britain. The purpose was to look at public service broadcasting. There was a hint of waste here; the government or subsidised broadcasters in the three countries all have excellent websites and battalions of public relations staff who could in endless detail tell of their corporate missions. Why not use the internet rather than going in person? This must surely be a gigantic waste of public funds. And if a bunch of lawmakers swan about the world listening to the radio, what other nefarious trips are they making that hurl taxpayer dollars down the drain? Rest easy, Mr and Mrs Taxpayer. Our funds are not being misused; well, not by Legco members on official missions. After two weeks of hunting and sniffing among archives and dusty regulations, I am satisfied that such trips come under close scrutiny, that every cent is accounted for and there is no profligate spending. What's more, there is total transparency on where the money goes. Take that broadcasting mission. The government in January set up a review committee to look at operation and management of public broadcasting. The appropriate Legco panel studied the issue. It decided it needed first-hand information on international developments. So the duty trip was organised and approved by the Legco House Committee. The visit comes firmly under rules laid down by the Legislative Council Commission. Under this, all 60 members are allowed $55,000 during the 2004-08 term to pay for travelling, meals, hotels and all other expenses on committee trips. If this miserly limit is exceeded, members pay the excess. The rules are iron-clad, with such items as air fares and hotel rates having to be within quotes obtained by the Legco Secretariat. Not even the most suspicious and cynical observer can complain about $55,000 over four years. Albert Cheng travelled economy class ($24,960 from Hong Kong to Ottawa, Washington and London then home to Hong Kong.) Like the others, he stayed in four-star business hotels with total room rates of $11,000. Take in food, travel from airports to hotels and other essentials and he would not have had change out of $40,000. This means that for the rest of the current Legco tenure, he's got a total of $15,000 to make essential learning trips. There are other visits where lawmakers have no costs. The government hosted Legco members to National Day celebrations in Beijing in 2004 and on a learning trip to the Pearl River Delta last September. During the current Legco term, which started in April 2004, there have been only five duty visits by members. Apart from studying smokers in Norwegian restaurants, radio stations in Ontario and poverty in Ireland, members also have looked at transport in Guangdong and cultural infrastructure in Spain. Total costs for all trips has been less than $1 million. Aware that all spending of public funds by Legco members comes under scrutiny not only of suspicious media but also shrewd and alert political opponents, the Legco Secretariat and members are meticulous in keeping within the rules. My suspicions that money was being wasted to fund unnecessary trips turned out to be unfounded. Each cent is counted and accounted for. The rules are strict and unbent. We're getting value for money. That's nice to know.