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LCQ15: Mechanism for declaration of interests

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):


     It was discovered two years ago that the family of the Secretary for Development (the Secretary) owned a farmland within the areas covered by the North East New Territories New Development Areas (New Development Areas) project. Some members of the public considered that the Secretary's private interests conflicted with his official duties, and a member of the public lodged a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It has been reported that ICAC replied to the complainant last month that it would not conduct further investigation into this case, but it did not offer any justification for not instituting prosecution. The complainant told the media that ICAC did not seek additional information from her during its investigation. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(1) given that when handling the case of alleged sale of property by a non-official member of the Executive Council before the Government announced the introduction of the measures to stabilise the property market in 2012, the authorities made public the legal advice they received for the purpose of explaining why prosecution was not instituted, why the authorities have not made public the justifications for not instituting prosecution in this case; whether the authorities will make public the relevant justifications; if they will not, of the reasons for that; why ICAC did not seek additional information from the complainant during its investigation into this case;

(2) as one of the duties of the Secretary is to implement the New Development Areas project, and the aforesaid farmland had already been included in the areas covered by the New Development Areas when the Secretary assumed office in July 2012, but the Secretary stated that not until late September 2012 did he realise that the farmland was situated inside the New Development Areas, whether the authorities will improve the existing system of declaration of interests for politically appointed officials, so as to ensure that such officials declare in a timely manner their private interests that conflict with their official duties; and

(3) as it has been reported that the aforesaid farmland is still currently held by the younger brother of the Secretary's wife, and it is stipulated in the Guidelines for the Chief Executive in Handling Potential Cases of Conflict of Interest and Acceptance of Advantages and Entertainment Concerning Politically Appointed Officials (the Guidelines) promulgated by the authorities in August 2013 that where an official's "private interests" (defined therein as also covering the financial and other interests of the official's other relations and personal friends apart from encompassing the interests of the official himself and his family) may conflict with his official duties, the official shall make a declaration, whether the interest associated with the aforesaid farmland held by a relative is a form of "private interest" that is required to be declared under the Guidelines; if so, whether the authorities have received any relevant declaration of interests; if they have not received the relevant declaration, of the reasons for that?



(1) Upon receiving a corruption complaint, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will, on the basis of the information provided by the complainant, take follow-up action and interview the complainant with a view to gathering information that may be provided by the complainant for investigation purposes. It is noted that ICAC has followed up on the complaint in question according to the above procedures. ICAC has earlier notified the complainant in writing that it had carried out an investigation as required by law and had sought legal advice from the Department of Justice (DoJ); that the investigation concerned was reported to the Operations Review Committee at its meeting on April 29, 2015; and that after deliberation the Committee endorsed that no further investigative action be pursued as ICAC had already completed all the necessary action that could be taken within its jurisdiction. It is also noted that in response to media enquiries on May 6, DoJ said it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage since it had already provided legal advice on whether or not the matter still involved any criminal acts or investigation falling outside the jurisdiction of ICAC.

(2) and (3) The current declaration system requires Politically Appointed Officials (PAOs) of all ranks to declare their investment, shareholding, direct or indirect interest in any company; their directorships, proprietorships or partnerships in any company; and, if any, the specific details concerning their participation in any private company's affairs. They are also required to declare any investment and interest held by themselves or in the name of their spouses, children or other persons, agents or companies, but are actually acquired on their account or in which they have a beneficial interest. According to the requirements of the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System (the Code), investments and interests declared by PAOs of all ranks in the prescribed form are made available on the websites of the respective offices/bureaux for public inspection. Such declarations will be updated annually.

     Moreover, the Code also requires that PAOs shall report to the Chief Executive any private interests that might influence, or appear to influence, their judgement in the performance of their duties. PAOs shall refrain from handling cases with actual or potential conflict of interest as well.

     The current mechanism for declaration of interests is rigorous and effective. The Government has no plan at present to amend the current declaration system.

     On the Secretary for Development's (the Secretary) handling of the previous partial ownership of the farmland by his family members within the boundary of the North East New Territories New Development Areas and related matters, as the Government has stated repeatedly in the past, the Secretary had already made declaration to the Chief Executive in accordance with the Code. As a member of the Executive Council, the Secretary has also declared the relevant interests according to the system of the Executive Council. In this regard, the Secretary is in full compliance with the requirements of the existing declaration mechanism.

Ends/Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Issued at HKT 11:30


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