Hong Kong ex-finance chief John Tsang shrugs off accusations he failed to declare employment

Tsang says he was in touch with Hong Kong leader’s office last month regarding television series he worked on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 7:01am

Former Hong Kong financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah on Thursday shrugged off suggestions that he had been uncooperative as he refuted accusations he had failed to declare his employment after leaving the government.

Tsang revealed that he had been in touch with top staff at Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s office as early as mid-September regarding a television series he helped produce with public broadcaster RTHK.

Controversy over his work with the station erupted last Saturday when it was revealed that promotion of the 10-episode show titled Hong Kong Stories, to be aired next month, would be suspended, even though the programme involved unpaid appearances by Tsang.

The saga prompted Lam to urge her former colleague and competitor in the Hong Kong leadership race this year to “respect the system” like other officials.

But Tsang said on Thursday: “I have been in contact with Jessie via email. It has absolutely nothing to do with disrespecting the system or being uncooperative.”

He was referring to Jessie Ting Yip Yin-mei, permanent secretary of Lam’s office.

He said he had been providing information as requested.

Tsang was speaking outside the High Court in Admiralty where he spent the afternoon in a public gallery supporting his former boss Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who is in the middle of a bribery trial.

John Tsang said he was approached by Ting in mid-September after she learned that he had been appointed an adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong, also unpaid.

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Since then, he had mentioned to the official that he had two unpaid engagements under his belt – the RTHK series and a radio show at Commercial Radio, he said.

According to government guidance notes on post-office employment, 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 former work in the first year after they step down.

Tsang’s view was that it was unnecessary for him to notify a government advisory committee about his activities because they were not to be counted as employment. But Lam has said the guidance notes apply to “any employment”.

Tsang said that while Ting later agreed that the professorship required no notification, no decision had been made on the two other jobs. But a government source on Thursday night said Tsang had not provided officials with the details needed for them to make a decision.

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A spokesman for Lam’s office on Thursday said they would not comment or pursue the matter further.

An RTHK spokesman said they had approached Tsang about four months ago, and work on the production, which was still going on, had started in July.

Tsang said he did not expect the matter would cause such controversy.

“It was meant to be a simple matter. It was not predictable that it would cause so many misunderstandings,” he said.

Tsang said he would continue to communicate with his old colleagues to resolve the matter.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam