The public eye suddenly regained focus on Chief Executive Donald Tsang yesterday after two government reports were released – one on his extravagant overseas visits and one on his acceptance of undue favors from tycoons.
An Audit Commission report found that over the past five years, the Chief Executive’s Office spent a total of HK$12 million on 55 official visits overseas. There were 49 nights when Tsang’s accommodations were covered by the Hong Kong government and all them exceeded the maximum budget for civil servants. On two separate trips to London and Australia last year, Tsang’s accommodation expenses exceeded the budget by 22 times and 5 times respectively.
The most interesting piece of the Audit Commission report was on Tsang’s recent trip to Brazil which caused a public outcry and thus the commission stepping in. In response to a TVB news report that Tsang stayed at a presidential suite that cost HK$50,000 per night, the CE Office explained back then that the room was chosen for its suitability to hold meetings. But the commission found that only one meeting of 25 minutes was held in that suite of 4,000 square feet! In all, the commission found the spending of public money on Tsang’s luxurious accommodation unjustified and unreasonable.
Separately, after a series of media investigative reports earlier this year that revealed Tsang’s traveling on his tycoon friends’ private jets and yachts, a special committee was set up to review the existing mechanism on conflicts of interests concerning top officials. The committee, chaired by former chief justice of the court of final appeal Andrew Li, found the present system to be completely inappropriate and had a fundamental defect in exempting the chief executive from the anti-bribery regime that applied to politically appointed officials and civil servants. The committee proposed 36 measures including the set up of an independent committee to approve the chief executive’s acceptance of benefits and making his acceptance of unapproved favor a criminal act.
Observers said the reports might be the central government’s deliberate effort to fix CY Leung’s slumping popularity (because everything is relative…) In fact, Leung has already shown much political wisdom when he chose to travel on economy class to Beijing for his official appointment. He also blogged about having curry fish balls and Chinese puddings for dinner during the campaign period. But there is a price that Leung has to pay – Andrew Li’s recommendations are only meant to be forward-looking. That means Tsang will be the last chief executive who gets to stay at rooms like the presidential suite in Mandarin Oriental Washington DC.
When Leung takes office on July 1st, the YMCA may be more his class.
Today I am fortunate to have a guest author for “Facing China.”
Vivian Au is a Director at Kreab Gavin Anderson Hong Kong. Her specialty is in regulation management and public policy issues.