Hong Kong aviation

Pro-Beijing Hong Kong legislator Ma Fung-kwok accused of abusing position in row with airport security over hair gel in carry-on bag

Lawmaker denies deliberately bringing up his acquaintance with Airport Authority chief to put pressure of staff

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 2:37pm

A pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician has been accused of abusing his status as a legislator to bypass airport rules on liquids in carry-on baggage when he insisted on taking a tube of hair gel on his flight with him.

But Ma Fung-kwok on Thursday brushed aside the allegations that he deliberately brought up his acquaintance with Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of the Airport Authority, during exchanges with ground staff. He admitted that he mentioned his job as a lawmaker.

The Aviation Security Company Limited (AVSECO), which is responsible for security at Hong Kong International Airport, said its inquiries revealed the guards involved did not follow procedures and had allowed Ma to take the gel on board. It had started a disciplinary review into the case.

The furore, dubbed “hair gel-gate” online, began, according to a report in Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily, when Ma was leaving Hong Kong for Beijing on Monday and security officers stopped him in the departure hall.

A security check had found that he had a 200ml tube of hair gel in his carry-on backpack. Passengers are not allowed to carry liquids, gels or aerosols in containers larger than 100ml in cabin baggage, even if the container is only part-full.

Staff told Ma to either dump the gel or put it in his checked baggage. According to the report published on Thursday, Ma mentioned to the staff that he was a lawmaker and that he knew Lam. He also asked to talk to a more senior officer, “who could make decisions”.

[The officer] said he was the most senior staff. I told him he is not, as the most senior officer at the Airport Authority is Lam
Ma Fung-kwok

After some discussion, Ma, who represents the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector in the legislature, was given the green light to take the gel in his carry-on bag.

Ma, who originally dismissed the exchange as a “small incident” which only involved “different interpretations of the security check”, told the Post later that he was willing to apologise to the officers if he had inconvenienced them.

“I was only trying to speak up for my right,” he said, adding that there was very little hair gel in the plastic tube.

Ma also dismissed accusations that he had abused his lawmaker status and highlighted his relationship with Lam.

“[The officer] said he was the most senior staff. I told him he is not, as the most senior officer at the Airport Authority is Lam,” Ma said. He said he told the staff that, as a lawmaker, he also cared about flight safety.

He said he was allowed to go after the officers did a chemical test of his gel – which he described as an effective and reasonable way of resolving the matter.

But Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a pilot by trade, criticised Ma for abusing his power. He said his fellow legislator may even have risked breaching Article 18 of the Airport Authority By-law, which states no person shall wilfully obstruct any authorised officer in the execution of their duty without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

Tam said the rules stated clearly that the volume limit referred to the containers, not their contents, and accused Ma of “twisting the rules in his own way”.

It was regrettable that the officers bowed to the pressure from Ma to test his gel, he said, as he feared it would set a bad precedent.

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A spokesman for the Airport Authority said it had followed up the case with AVSECO and reminded the company that it must enforce all relevant security requirements in strict compliance with the Airport Security Programme.

It is not the first time the city’s great and good have got entangled in baggage wrangles.

In 2016, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying was embroiled in scandal after he was accused of exerting pressure on airport staff to bypass security rules and deliver a piece of left luggage to his younger daughter, who was at the boarding gate at the time. He denied any wrongdoing.