Hong Kong’s chief secretary says John Tsang probe ‘purely procedural’

Row intensifies over John Tsang’s failure to declare his work on an RTHK television programme

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 3:29pm

Hong Kong’s No 2 official denied allegations that the government is targeting former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah by demanding that he provide information regarding his failure to declare his participation in a TV programme.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government was only seeking factual information from Tsang to ensure the work he did as a former office holderwas appropriate – a move he described as “purely procedural”.

The political row between Tsang, a failed chief executive candidate, and the government erupted over the weekend after the former financial secretary revealed RTHK, the city’s public broadcaster, had suspended promotion of a TV series hosted by him because he did not notify the government advisory committee about the filming.

Tsang insisted such a declaration was unnecessary as he was neither paid nor employed by any organisations. Critics accused the government of double standards as former chief executive Leung Chun-ying previously failed to declare his appointment as a director at two companies until a media exposé highlighted the issue.

“People should not have an incorrect impression that [the government] is giving favourable treatment to Mr Leung while oppressing Mr Tsang,” said Cheung on Sunday.

“This is definitely a misunderstanding … as Leung has been completely cooperative. He has provided whatever information we have requested.”

Cheung also said the non-profit nature of the work did not mean it required no declaration.

“The nature of the work is also very important,” he said, adding that the advisory body could make a prompt decision once Tsang made the factual details available.

John Tsang makes comeback in Facebook video urging support for the visually impaired

According to a guidance note, politically appointed officials are not allowed to “commence any employment, become a director or a partner in any business or profession or start any business or profession on his or her own account or with others”, that would likely constitute a conflict of interest with their previous role, in the first year after they step down.

The guidance does not state clearly whether anyone taking up non-profit work has to file a request to the advisory committee.

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, the former president of the Legislative Council, urged the government to clarify the circumstances under which ex-officials should declare the work they do after leaving office, as there was now apparently a different interpretation of the guidelines.

Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping agreed that ex-officials should still declare their non-profit work, as public perception as well as the possibility of future deferred interests would also matter.

He added that the actions of Tsang and the government were “understandable”, and the saga could be easily resolved if Tsang gave the government the information it wanted.

Tsang has resurfaced in the public eye months after his defeat to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the chief executive race in March.

Apart from the 10-episode series for RTHK, he has started a music programme with Commercial Radio, campaigned for the Dialogue in the Dark Foundation – a charitable organisation for the visually impaired – and taken up a part-time unpaid teaching role at the University of Hong Kong.

He did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.