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LCQ2: Hotel accommodation arrangements for CE's duty visits outside Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a reply by the Acting Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 13):


     Last month, the Audit Commission published the "Report on hotel accommodation arrangements for the Chief Executive's duty visits outside Hong Kong" which stated that the incumbent Chief Executive (CE) had made a total of 55 duty visits from 2007 to April this year and stayed in hotels for 142 nights, among which 49 nights were paid by the SAR Government and, of these 49 nights, CE was accommodated in superior suites for 41 nights.  CE has been criticised as being insatiably avaricious in acting in such a way.  At the same time, the Audit Commission has pointed out that on many occasions, adequate documented justification for CE's accommodation in superior suites was not available.  The Audit Commission has also made a number of recommendations in the Report, e.g. when it is necessary to enhance the subsistence allowance to CE, approval should be sought from the Permanent Secretary, Chief Executive's Office (PermSecy/CEO), in order to provide consistency in the processing of applications within CEO.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that the Audit Commission's "Report on hotel accommodation arrangements for the Chief Executive's duty visits outside Hong Kong" is primarily submitted to CE and uploaded to the Audit Commission's web site, but under section 13 of the Audit Ordinance, the Director of Audit (the Director) shall report to the President of the Legislative Council (LegCo) a matter which constitutes, in the opinion of the Director, a serious irregularity in the accounting for the expenditure of public moneys, and yet at present the Director has not submitted the Report to LegCo, making it impossible for the Public Accounts Committee to discuss the matter concerned, whether the Director has assessed if his aforesaid practice will render it not possible for LegCo to perform its function of monitoring the Government; and

(b) of the detailed arrangements for implementing the Audit Commission's recommendations (including the one about seeking approval from PermSecy/CEO for paying an enhanced subsistence allowance to CE) by the current-term and the next-term Governments; whether the CE-elect has accepted these recommendations, and what his response to such recommendations is; of the timetable for implementing the recommendations; of the recommendations that can be implemented before the term of the incumbent CE ends on June 30 this year, and the recommendations that can be implemented before the prorogation of the current-term LegCo on July 18 this year?   



     There have been a number of criticisms concerning the Chief Executive's duty visits over the past couple of months.  I am aware that the criticisms have picked up momentum following the publication of the review report by the Director of Audit (the Director).

     On the question of whether the Chief Executive (CE) should be accommodated in presidential suites during his duty visits, as pointed out in the Director's Report, we should on the one hand have regard to the "moderate and conservative" principle on the use of government funds, and should on the other hand reflect credibly CE's position as head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) as well as Hong Kong's status in the international arena.

     With the above considerations in mind, it has been the practice for former Governors before 1997 and for successive Chief Executives after 1997 to be accommodated in hotel rooms of a class which is above that for standard rooms during duty visits.  The arrangements have had regard to operational needs and the representative role of Hong Kong's head.

     According to the Report, 93 out of CE's 142 nights' of hotel accommodation during his duty visits in the past five years were sponsored by the hosts.  For such sponsored accommodation, the CE was offered accommodation in what the Report has regarded as "superior suites" on over 90 per cent of the occasions.  This helps to illustrate that the hosts, taking into account CE's position as head of the HKSAR and Hong Kong's status in the international arena, have deemed it appropriate to accommodate CE at such hotel rooms.  In terms of the class of accommodation, the accommodation funded by the HKSAR Government was generally comparable to that offered by the hosts for cases involving sponsorship.

     Perhaps due to the inheritance of a practice established for so many years, we have not been sensitive enough when making the arrangements.  We have not always made in-depth analysis into the accommodation choices and compared the options available, as a result of which we, in retrospect, have not made the most appropriate arrangements on some occasions.  We understand and respect the criticisms over individual cases.  We have generally accepted the Report's recommendations and have started follow-up actions.

     As regards the Honourable Member's reference to Section 13 of the Audit Ordinance, I must state that the Report has not pointed out any circumstances relevant to that section.  In other words, the accommodation arrangements as reviewed by the Director did not involve any irregularity in the accounting of government funds.  Nor has the Report pointed to violation of any rules or regulations.

     The Report is prepared by the Director at CE's special request.  It aims to examine the existing mechanism and find out whether and how the arrangements should be improved.  The Audit Ordinance does not expressly provide that the Director is required to transmit a copy of this special Report to the Legislative Council (LegCo).  The Director has also explained this understanding when replying to the Public Accounts Committee's written enquiry earlier.

     Most importantly, the Report has been published and uploaded to the Audit Commission's website.  The Director has also given an account of this Report on various occasions, to help the general public and the LegCo better understand its content.  There are ample opportunities for the community and the legislature to discuss the Report.  We believe such discussions are already effective means for monitoring Government's work in the relevant areas.

     As the current term of Government is about to end, we have sent the Report to the CE-elect's Office in the first instance, for its early reference.  The CE-elect generally agrees with the Report's recommendations.  The outgoing and incoming administrations have also exchanged views on how to follow up on those recommendations.  In this regard, we have started drafting internal guidelines in the light of the Report's recommendations.  We aim to submit draft guidelines incorporating the views from departments concerned to the CE-elect before July 1, with a view to early implementation.  Our objectives are to improve the existing arrangements, by tightening the planning and approval process, enhancing transparency of the expenditure and institutionalising the improved accommodation arrangements.

Ends/Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:37


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