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LCQ17: Appointment and removal of ExCo Members

     Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 5):


     On November 2 last year, a Non-official Member of the Executive Council (ExCo) requested leave of absence on the ground that he "needed time to concentrate on handling the queries arisen from the sale of his properties". The Chief Executive (CE) acceded to the request and the ExCo Member has not yet resumed his duty up to the present. On the 24th of last month, another ExCo Non-official Member resigned from all public service positions, including that as an ExCo Member, on the ground that he "is under police investigation", and CE accepted his resignation. On the other hand, an open document of the ExCo indicates that the number of withdrawals of ExCo Members from discussions at ExCo meetings due to conflict of interest had increased substantially last year. Regarding the mechanisms for ExCo Members' taking leave of absence, suspension from duty and stepping down from the office, as well as issues relating to withdrawals from discussions due to conflict of interest, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government has currently any administrative guidelines specifying the respective circumstances under which an ExCo Non-official Member is required to "take leave of absence", "be suspended from duty" and step down from office; if so, of the details of such circumstances; whether it has set any requirements regarding the detailed arrangements for an ExCo Non-official Member to "take leave of absence" and "be suspended from duty", including the maximum period of leave of absence to be taken;

(b) whether a quorum has been set for ExCo meetings; if so, of the quorum; whether it has assessed the impact of a situation where two or more ExCo Members are taking leave/being suspended from duty for an indefinite period on the operation of the ExCo; if it has, of the assessment results; if the assessment results indicate that there will be adverse impact, of the Government's solutions for such a situation;

(c) while the Government has indicated that, in respect of those ExCo Members taking leave of absence and being suspended from duty, the Government will cease to pay such Members any allowances and send them any ExCo meeting documents, whether the Government has any guidelines requiring other ExCo Members not to exchange views with such ExCo Members in respect of polices, ExCo business and other issues;

(d) whether it will conduct integrity checking of ExCo Members again on account of the reasons for their taking leave of absence or being suspended from duty; whether the Government currently has any guidelines requiring an ExCo Non-official Member's appointment be revoked under the specified circumstances; if so, of the details, including whether an ExCo Member is required to step down from office during the period when he/she is being prosecuted but the case has not yet been concluded; and

(e) whether it has drawn up guidelines to deal with the situation where an ExCo Member is required to withdraw from discussions at ExCo meetings for a prolonged period due to conflict of interest; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; in respect of individual Non-official Members, (i) of the highest number of times of absence from meetings and (ii) the highest number of withdrawals from discussions due to conflict of interest, since the inauguration of the incumbent Government; of the number of ExCo meetings held since the inauguration of the incumbent Government, and set out the attendance of ExCo Members at meetings and their withdrawals from discussions due to conflict of interest according to the table attached?



     The Executive Council (ExCo) is the highest-level organ for assisting the Chief Executive in policy-making. It has a constitutional status and its role, composition and functions are clearly stipulated in the Basic Law. The appointment and removal of ExCo Members are determined by the Chief Executive. Regarding the five parts of the question, my reply is as follows:

(a) The appointment and removal of ExCo Members are determined by the Chief Executive. ExCo Members may, considering their individual circumstances and personal needs, apply to the Chief Executive to be absent from a particular ExCo meeting, take a leave of absence, or even for resignation. The Chief Executive, after duly considered the reasons put forth by ExCo Members, would decide whether to accede to their requests. There are no specific guidelines at present stipulating the procedures for handling such applications. In fact, given that the number of ExCo members is limited, the reasons and hence the duration for the absence vary, and since each application will be handled by the Chief Executive in person after his due consideration, there seems to be no need for a set of standard guidelines.

(b) There is no quorum for ExCo meetings. At present, apart from one Member who is taking a leave of absence with the Chief Executive's approval, 14 Non-Official Members, the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Secretary for Justice, and the 12 Bureau Secretaries who attend the ExCo meeting when items under their policy purviews are discussed, have been performing their function in assisting the Chief Executive in policy-making. The functions of the ExCo will not be affected by individual cases.

(c) During his leave of absence, an ExCo Member will not attend the meetings and briefings of the ExCo, or participate in other ExCo activities in the capacity of ExCo Member. The Government will suspend the payment of honorarium and distribution of ExCo documents to the Member concerned during the period. At present, there is one ExCo Member taking a leave of absence.

(d) Non-Official ExCo Members, like Principal Officials, would be required to undergo and pass the extended integrity checking before taking up the appointment. The effectiveness of the integrity checking system hinges on the trust and co-operation of all parties concerned. To ensure the effectiveness and integrity of the system, we cannot disclose further details of the checking.

     As stipulated in the Basic Law, the appointment or removal of ExCo Members shall be decided by the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive would consider whether it is necessary to remove the appointment of an ExCo Member considering the individual circumstances of each case.

(e) The ExCo has adopted a rigorous system for declaration of interests. It is the personal responsibility of ExCo Members to examine whether they have an interest in any item discussed by the ExCo and declare it before the ExCo discussion. Based on the interests declared, the Chief Executive will assess whether ExCo Members concerned may have a potential or real conflict of interests in the item considered by the ExCo. The Chief Executive will decide whether Members concerned should participate in or withdraw from the discussion of that item. This is to ensure that unbiased and impartial advice is offered. If the Chief Executive decides that the ExCo Member concerned should so withdraw, the relevant ExCo documents and minutes will be withheld from him. Details of the Member's declaration and withdrawal will be recorded in the minutes.

     Given the wide range of matters submitted to the ExCo and the need for the implementation of the confidentiality system, we cannot list out all the specific situations where Members have to withdraw from discussions; but we can set out broadly some direct and significant interests as follows where withdrawal would be necessary:

(i) significant personal pecuniary interests which may be materially affected by the decision of the ExCo;

(ii) ExCo Members' directorships, partnerships or advisory positions in companies which may be materially affected by the decision of the ExCo;

(iii) that an ExCo Member, in his professional capacity, has advised or represented any person or body in connection with the item to be discussed; and

(iv) other close or substantial interests, which if known publicly will lead reasonable members of the public to think that an ExCo Member's advice may have been motivated by personal interests or involvement rather than by the duty to give impartial advice.

     As regards the statistics on withdrawal of Members from discussions at ExCo meetings due to conflict of interest, they are released on an annual basis on the ExCo website. According to such presentation of statistics, during the current term of ExCo from July 2012 to May 21, 2013, 40 meetings were held with 210 items discussed. Among which, there were 53 items where one or more Members withdrew from discussions due to conflict of interest. The total number of withdrawals from discussions was 113. As mentioned above, the 12 Bureau Secretaries who are also ExCo Members will only attend ExCo meetings when items under their policy purviews are discussed. As for Non-official Members, they may, due to individual circumstances, e.g. sickness or overseas business trip, or conflict of interest and hence have been withdrawn from discussions of the meeting. We therefore have not compiled statistics on the absence from discussions by both types of Members and cannot provide the requested information.

Ends/Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Issued at HKT 19:52


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