LC: CS presents Government Minute in response to Report of Public Accounts Committee No. 60A

     Following is the speech (translated from Chinese) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in presenting the Government Minute in response to the Report of the Public Accounts Committee No. 60A in the Legislative Council today (February 19):


     Laid on the table today is the Government Minute (GM) responding to Report No. 60A of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

     After conducting eight public hearings, the PAC presented Report No. 60A to this Council on November 27, 2013, setting out its conclusions and recommendations on Chapter 7 of the Director of Audit's Report on "Preventive education and enlisting public support against corruption". This value-for-money audit conducted by the Audit Commission focused on three areas of work of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), i.e. preventive education, enlisting public support and strategic planning and performance measurement. When examining these areas, the PAC also conducted an in-depth inquiry into the ICAC's internal administrative controls over official entertainment, duty visits outside Hong Kong and bestowal of gifts. I would like to express my gratitude to the PAC for the time and efforts it has devoted to conducting the hearings and making the recommendations.

     President, the ICAC just celebrated its 40th anniversary last week. May I take this opportunity to commend all ICAC officers for their dedication all these years to the ICAC's work on combatting against corruption and creating a culture of probity in Hong Kong. My gratitude also goes to all those who have served on ICAC's various advisory committees.

     The report revealed the inadequacies and non-compliances of the ICAC in the handling of official entertainment, duty visits outside Hong Kong and gifts during the tenure of its former Commissioner, which gave rise to wide community concerns. The PAC also exceptionally made some very strong criticisms in the report. Although many of the issues highlighted were related to the personal judgments or decisions of the former Commissioner, they have caused wide public concern and inevitably undermined the ICAC's image and Hong Kong's reputation as a corruption-free society both locally and overseas, and have shaken people's confidence in the ICAC. The Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Corruption, Mr Chow Chung-kong, earlier said that the incident was upsetting and regrettable. I share his feeling.

     President, it takes a very long time for a public organisation to build up its credibility, which may, however, be easily damaged by isolated incidents. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and endeavour to refine the systems in order to minimise the possibility of similar problems occurring in future. It is also essential that public officers should always uphold a high standard of probity and integrity in fulfilling the mission of their organisations.

     The Government is very concerned about the issues raised in the report. We are also determined to introduce measures to restore Hong Kong people's confidence in the ICAC. In fact, back on May 2, 2013, the Chief Executive (CE) has announced the establishment of the Independent Review Committee on ICAC's Regulatory Systems and Procedures for handling Official Entertainment, Gifts and Duty Visits (IRC). The IRC released its report on September 12, 2013, making a number of recommendations for improving the ICAC's systems and procedures for handling expenses on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits. The ICAC has accepted the recommendations made by the Audit Commission, the PAC and the IRC. It has also set out in detail in the GM its specific responses to the work of its Community Relations Department (CRD) on preventive education and enlisting public support against corruption and its internal administrative controls. Now, I would like to highlight the key measures already taken by the ICAC and the progress made.

The work of the Community Relations Department, ICAC

     Since the ICAC's inception, the CRD has shouldered the statutory duty of educating the public against the evils of corruption and enlisting public support in combating corruption. It has also collaborated closely with other departments in the ICAC to fight corruption. This three-pronged approach has earned recognition and support from the community. Besides making face-to-face contacts with members of the public to get the anti-corruption message across, it also makes extensive use of the mass media and web platforms/new media to enhance the overall effectiveness of the work of the CRD and the transparency of the ICAC.

     In the light of the Director of Audit's recommendations, the ICAC has taken appropriate follow-up measures on preventive education and enlisting public support against corruption in order to address the PAC's concerns over the work of the CRD. By taking on board measures such as extending preventive education activities for the youth, stepping up corruption prevention education and advisory services in building management, fine-tuning the strategy for providing services to private organisations (including non-profit-making organisations), monitoring the training needs of government departments and public organisations closely, and promoting clean and fair elections message extensively, we believe that the effectiveness of the CRD's work will be further enhanced.

     Public support is essential in combating corruption. We attach great importance to encouraging the public to report corruption. The ICAC will keep under constant review the CRD's strategies for enlisting the support of the general public and district organisations, and study ways to further encourage the reporting of corruption. To ensure prudent use of public funds, the ICAC will also conduct a comprehensive review of the cost-effectiveness of using shop fronts of commercial buildings for its Regional Offices. In addition, the CRD has reviewed its policy on preparation of work plans for better strategic planning and management in the long term. From the financial year 2014-15 onwards, apart from annual work plans, the CRD will map out five-year business plans to set out the objectives of strategic positioning and planning more precisely. Moreover, following a review of all relevant performance targets and indicators in the Controlling Officer's Report (COR) and having regard to the Director of Audit's recommendations, the CRD has set new targets and indicators, and also revised upward several performance targets in the COR.

Measures adopted by the ICAC to improve internal administrative controls over official entertainment, duty visits outside Hong Kong and bestowal of gifts

     Regarding improvement measures on internal administrative controls over official entertainment, duty visits outside Hong Kong and bestowal of gifts, the ICAC is currently implementing the various recommendations of the Audit Commission, the PAC and the IRC, and the measures have been duly reflected in the Commission Standing Orders (CSO) and its internal guidelines.

     On entertainment, the ICAC has banned the serving of hard liquor from all official entertainment. It has also been set out clearly in the CSO that all expenditure items (e.g. wine, dessert, snacks, beverages, etc.) incurred before or after the same event must be included as part of the total entertainment expenses, and splitting of bills or charging them to different votes is strictly prohibited. Exceptional approval must be sought from the Commissioner if expenses exceed the ceiling regardless of whether the expenses are charged to the Publicity Vote or the Official Entertainment Vote.

     Regarding duty visits outside Hong Kong, ICAC officers are required to avoid non-official activities and modification of itinerary for private reasons is prohibited unless with the Commissioner's prior approval, which is normally only granted on compassionate grounds.

     On bestowal of gifts, the CSO has been updated to require that the exchange of gifts on official occasions should be limited to the minimum. Where it is unavoidable, the exchange should be made among organisations and only one standard souvenir inscribed with the ICAC logo should be presented to the organisation concerned.

     To improve the overall administrative control and ensure good governance, the ICAC has put in place an internal audit mechanism and enhanced staff training to ensure that its staff understand the improved administrative measures and strictly comply with the relevant requirements. The Commissioner will also report to the Advisory Committee on Corruption on the details of the official entertainment he conducted that exceeds the expenditure ceiling.

     The ICAC will continue to conduct regular reviews on its regulatory procedures and the CSO, with a view to continuously updating and perfecting the existing regulatory systems.

     President, in submitting Report No. 60A, the Chairman of the PAC, Hon Abraham Shek Lai-him, made a strong remark that the inadequacies and non-compliances of the ICAC in the handling of official entertainment, duty visits outside Hong Kong and gifts during the tenure of its former Commissioner had eroded the credibility of the ICAC in educating the public and enlisting public support against corruption. While I understand that it is impossible to fully address public concerns merely with the GM tabled today, I trust that under the leadership of the incumbent Commissioner, the ICAC will continue with the follow-up actions and effectively implement the various recommendations, and consolidate the image of ICAC combating corruption with unceasing efforts in the eyes of the public, and their position as the forerunner in corruption prevention in the world.

Reviewing and updating government guidelines

     President, I would like to reiterate that probity is an important core value of Hong Kong and combating corruption is crucial to the overall development of our community. Adhering to the principles of fairness and probity, the current-term Government is committed to upholding the highest standard of integrity and conduct in the civil service. In this regard, apart from the follow-up actions taken by the ICAC, last year the CE asked the Civil Service Bureau and the Administration Wing, by making reference to the IRC Report, to review government guidelines pertaining to official entertainment, gifts and duty visits to ensure that the conduct of government officers meets public expectations.

     After a comprehensive review, the Government has issued new guidelines reminding public officers to refrain as far as possible from bestowing gifts or souvenirs during the conduct of official activities. We have also revised the existing guidelines, emphasising the need for public officers to uphold the principle of economy when entertaining guests for official purposes. As regards duty visits, the Government has reminded public officers that they should strictly abide by the relevant regulations and seek approval for every application for duty visits, with detailed records, in order to ensure proper use of public funds.


     When interviewed by the media the other day, the incumbent Commissioner said that the incident was an unprecedented challenge for the ICAC in its 40-year history, and his colleagues were confronted with some sarcastic comments as a result. Nevertheless, I cannot agree more with the remarks made by the Chairman of the PAC when tabling the report that the dedication and good work of the ICAC and its staff had made Hong Kong a world renowned corruption-free city during the past 40 years. I trust that under the leadership of the incumbent Commissioner, colleagues of the ICAC will stay committed to combating corruption and upholding Hong Kong's core values. They will also strive to rebuild the ICAC's credibility and maintain Hong Kong's reputation as a corruption-free society.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:20