Whistle-blower tells of HK$220m deal pressure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am


A former senior civil servant has claimed there was 'political' pressure from the highest official levels to award a HK$220 million contract to a particular company.

In a 13-page document sent to lawmakers, Jeremy Godfrey - who has quit as head of the government's information technology unit over the affair - says Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Elizabeth Tse Man-yee suggested to him that there was a 'political assignment' to award a lucrative IT contract to a company called iProA.

Godfrey (pictured), who had been prevented by official rules from speaking about the allegations but was later allowed to do so, says Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Tse exerted pressure on him to make sure the contract - to implement an internet learning scheme for needy families - went to the firm. He told legislators he had been told that Tsang considered it mandatory for iProA - also known as the Internet Professional Association - to implement the programme.

His comments were yesterday dismissed as 'ridiculous' by Tsang and 'misleading' by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau. Both insist the selection process was open and fair. Dr Elizabeth Quat, a member of the government-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, is a founder of the association.

In a letter to the Legislative Council's information technology and broadcasting panel, Godfrey said Tse told him the 'political assignment' was directed from 'beyond the financial secretary'.

The eInclusion Foundation - a coalition including the association - and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service were awarded the contract jointly.

In his document to lawmakers Godfrey wrote that in 2009 he had received messages that Tsang or a member of his office considered it mandatory for the association to be implementer and his office received a call from Tsang's office 'seeking reassurance that I was aware of the outcome desired by the FS'.

While Godfrey spoke out against having two groups run the project, he said it was he who first proposed eInclusion and the council collaborate. Negotiations between the two groups failed and Tse decided their responsibilities should be split geographically to make sure the internet access plan was implemented properly. Godfrey disagreed and resigned.

Godfrey, relying on memory, also said the ICAC's corruption prevention division wrote to his office 'expressing grave concerns over the procedural propriety of the decision to select dual implementers'.

Tsang described the accusations as 'ridiculous' and then 'absurd'.

The commerce bureau said the decision had been a collective one 'with due regard to all relevant factors and Mr Godfrey's advice'.

IProA president Dr Winnie Tang Shuk-ming said it was Godfrey who first asked it to consider bidding.