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Response of Chief Executive's Office to media enquiries
     During her Question and Answer Session in the Legislative Council yesterday (January 11), the Chief Executive took the initiative to say that she had given consent for Ms Teresa Cheng to complete the handling of six arbitration cases during her term as the Secretary for Justice. In response to media enquiries, the Chief Executive's Office gave the following reply:
     Clause 14 in the Memorandum on Terms and Conditions for Employment as Principal Officials (MOTC) provides that during his/her term of office, a Principal Official shall not, without the consent in writing of the Chief Executive and subject to such conditions or requirements as she may impose, be engaged in or concerned with (either directly or indirectly as principal, agent, director or shadow director, employee, or otherwise) any other trade, business, occupation, firm, company (private or public), chamber of commerce or similar bodies, public body or private professional practice. The content of the relevant provision is also reflected in the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System (PAO Code).
     Regarding the case of the Secretary for Justice, as the Chief Executive pointed out earlier, the entire process from Ms Cheng's acceptance of the invitation to take up the post of the Secretary for Justice to the Central People's Government's approval of the appointment on the nomination of the Chief Executive was very compressed. Within an extremely short period of time, Ms Cheng had to make preparation for her assumption of office, including handling of matters related to her private practice as Senior Counsel and numerous other prior commitments, such as tendering her resignation for positions in various local and international professional bodies as well as public appointments and withdrawing from participation in various local and international litigation and arbitration cases. This notwithstanding, the Chief Executive noted that Ms Cheng was handling six arbitration cases close to completion, which warranted special treatment. As a matter of fact, the hearing of the six cases had been completed and Ms Cheng had basically finished her tasks as an arbitrator. What remained to be done was for the arbitral tribunals concerned to finalise and issue the arbitration decisions/awards/orders. Having regard to the current progress, it was estimated that the cases concerned would be completed within a few months. If Ms Cheng were to resign from her role as arbitrator at this stage, she would have failed in her duty as an arbitrator and brought considerable inconvenience or loss to the parties concerned. This might even have undermined the policy direction of developing Hong Kong into a regional centre for legal services and dispute resolution. Without compromising the requirement to keep the content of the arbitration cases confidential, Ms Cheng advised that the six cases did not involve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government, the post of the Secretary for Justice or any public bodies in Hong Kong, and that there was nothing in the arbitration process which concerned any official affairs of the HKSAR Government or the Secretary for Justice. Taking into account the above factors and the special circumstances of this appointment, the Chief Executive gave consent in accordance with the above-mentioned provision for Ms Cheng to complete the handling of the six arbitration cases during her term as the Secretary for Justice. Ms Cheng's financial benefits arising from the rendering of professional services in the six cases from January 6 onwards (i.e. the date on which she assumed the office of the Secretary for Justice) will be donated to charities.
     In addition, the Chief Executive has also given consent in accordance with the above-mentioned provision for Ms Cheng to continue to carry out teaching activities for about three weekends, without remuneration, under the International Arbitration and Dispute Settlement Program at the Law School of Tsinghua University in the Spring Term of this academic year. Ms Cheng had tendered her resignation earlier for the positions of Course Director and Adjunct Professor for this Program. Nevertheless, she felt obliged to complete the above-mentioned teaching activities to avoid affecting the students' learning.
     When she was in private practice, Ms Cheng had held a 75 per cent share in, and had been a director of, a private company which provided secretariat service to her private practice as Senior Counsel. Due to the tight time frame for assuming the office of the Secretary for Justice, although Ms Cheng had already ceased her private practice as Senior Counsel, there remain a number of miscellaneous matters which need to be handled by the above-mentioned private company. The private company will be dissolved upon completion of the tasks on hand. Subsequent to the consent given by the Chief Executive to Ms Cheng on January 5 in accordance with the above-mentioned provision, Ms Cheng resigned from the directorship of the company on January 9 and transferred all her shares concerned to another party on the same day. The share transfer procedure is expected to be completed shortly.
     The consent given by the Chief Executive for Ms Cheng to complete the several matters described above is a fair and reasonable arrangement having regard to the practical and very exceptional circumstances. This arrangement will not affect the duties required to be discharged by Ms Cheng as the Secretary for Justice, nor the work of the HKSAR Government. Neither will it give rise to any conflict of interest situations. The consent given by the Chief Executive is subject to certain stipulated conditions which Ms Cheng will have to comply with, including the requirement to comply with all the terms of the MOTC and the PAO Code, to ensure that no conflict of interest situations will arise and to inform the Chief Executive immediately should there be a material change in circumstances when a conflict of interest situation may arise. Ms Cheng has already provided such an undertaking in writing.
     A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office said that based on available internal records, there had been at least one instance in which a Principal Official sought the consent of the then Chief Executive in accordance with the provisions of the MOTC concerned for the taking up of engagements unrelated to official duties on a time-limited basis during the term of appointment and obtained the consent of the then Chief Executive.
Ends/Friday, January 12, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:17
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