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LCQ1: Omissions to declare interests on matters relating to public interests

     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Cheng and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council meeting today (February 29):


     In response to recent media enquiries on the West Kowloon Reclamation Concept Plan Competition ("the Competition") held in 2001-2002, the Government indicated that after the voting process had been completed, it came to the notice of the Competition Team that a project team member of an entrant on the preliminary list of winning entries appeared to be associated with a member of the Jury for the Competition, who was a public officer.  The incident has caused extensive discussions in various sectors of the community, and how the Government handles incidents relating to omissions in declaration of interests by public officers has aroused much concern.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) in the past 10 years, of the number and details of omissions by public officers, including Members of the Executive Council to declare interests on matters relating to public interests;

(b) of the criteria of the Government for determining whether to make public or keep confidential the incidents of omissions to declare interests in (a); and

(c) in the past 10 years, whether the Government had imposed any punishment on the persons involved in the incidents of omissions to declare interests in (a); if it had, of the details of the punishments and the number of times they were imposed, as well as the criteria for determining whether or not to impose punishment?



     According to our understanding, "public officers" as referred to in the question cover mainly Principal Officials, members of the Executive Council (ExCo Members) and civil servants.  Having consulted relevant bureaux, our consolidated reply is as follows.

     With regard to omissions to declare interests on matters relating to public interests, according to our record, there are two cases of omissions by Principal Officials and ExCo Members in declaring interests in the past ten years.  

     In 2003, Mr Antony Leung, the then Financial Secretary, proposed to increase the First Registration Tax for motor vehicles in formulating the 2003-04 Budget.  When Mr Leung presented the Budget to the ExCo on March 5, 2003, he did not declare that he had purchased a new car.  The case was investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and examined by the Department of Justice.  It was considered that no prosecution should be instituted.  Mr Leung resigned from the post of the Financial Secretary.

     Upon media reports in September 2010, Mr Lau Wong-fat, an ExCo Member, acknowledged having omitted to declare the shareholdings (of a nominal value greater than 1% of the issued shared capital) in 13 companies, 19 residential properties and over 300 pieces of land in the "Annual Declaration of Registrable Interests of Members of the Executive Council".  Mr Lau had made declarations of all necessary information in September to October 2010, which was uploaded to the ExCo website.

     After the incident was reported by the media, the Administration immediately launched an in-depth investigation.  There was a detailed examination and analysis of the property transactions declared by Mr Lau as well as all the items and related papers involving land or property discussed by ExCo in the relevant period.  The analysis indicated that the property transactions did not constitute direct conflict of interests in the items discussed by ExCo.  There was also no evidence to suggest that Mr Lau had used ExCo's confidential information for his personal benefits.  

     There were also instances of technical omissions when Principal Officials filled out their declaration forms, for instance, forgetting to include certain directorships of statutory bodies which they took up as Principal Officials.  Principals Officials and the Chief Executive's Office deal with technical omissions very seriously.  Once the omissions are noticed, corrections will be made as soon as possible.

     As regards civil servants, the database kept by the Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline does not contain a category of' "omissions in declaration of interest".  Disciplinary cases are classified according to the nature of the misconduct acts.  Cases involving failure in declaring interest may, for instance, be classified under "breach of departmental instructions", "unauthorised acceptance of loans or other advantages from persons with official dealings", or where a guilty finding is returned by the court, "Misconduct in Public Office", "breach of section 3 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance", etc.  These categories may, however, consist of other cases which do not involve failure in declaring interest.  Take the categories of "unauthorised acceptance of loans or other advantages from persons with official dealings" and "breach of section 3 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance" as an example, in the past five years (2006/07 to 2010/11), there were 21 and 14 concluded formal disciplinary cases under these two categories respectively.  These cases involve solicitation of loans from subordinates, co-workers or persons with official dealings, acceptance of pecuniary interests or gifts from contractors or other persons with official dealings, etc.  Of these civil servants, six were punished by dismissal, four by compulsory retirement, and the others by reprimand, severe reprimand or other forms of punishment.

     Since disciplinary action involves the management of individual civil servants, the Civil Service Bureau will not normally make public individual disciplinary cases concerning failure in declaring interest or other misconduct acts.  The Civil Service Bureau reports to the Legislative Council Panel on Public Service on the mechanism and overall figures of civil service disciplinary matters on a regular basis.

Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:16


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