LEGCO QUESTIONS

Systems for the prevention of potential conflicts of interests and the control of entertainment expenses

15 May 2013
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Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Paul Tang, in the Legislative Council today (May 15):

The former Chief Executive set up the “Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests” in February 2012 to review the regulatory frameworks and procedures for the prevention and handling of potential conflicts of interests concerning the Chief Executive, Non-Official Members of the Executive Council (ExCo) and Officials under the Political Appointment System respectively, including the arrangements for declaration of investments/interests and acceptance of advantage/entertainment/hospitality.  Regarding the systems for the prevention of potential conflicts of interests and the control of entertainment expenses, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the latest progress of the authorities’ implementation of the 36 recommendations contained in the report submitted by the aforesaid Committee in May 2012; which of those recommendations have not yet been implemented and the reasons for that;

(b) whether, over the past 15 years, the authorities have reviewed and improved the regulatory mechanisms and procedures of various government departments for the prevention of conflicts of interests, as well as the departments’ measures for monitoring hospitality, entertainment and giving of gifts; if they have, of a breakdown by department of the details and the results of such reviews;

(c) given that recently, an ExCo Member has been alleged to be involved in a conflict-of-interests situation, a former official under the Political Appointment System has been prosecuted, and a former Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been alleged to have taken advantage of his position for personal gains in hosting meals for persons not related to the work of ICAC during his term of office, whether the authorities will consider (i) conducting a comprehensive review of the regulatory mechanisms and procedures of various government departments for the prevention of conflicts of interests, as well as the departments’ measures for monitoring hospitality, entertainment and giving of gifts; if they will consider, of the details and specific tasks; and (ii) conducting a comprehensive review of the system for integrity checking of directorate staff of various government departments; and

(d) whether it has maintained records of the entertainment expenses incurred by the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), the Immigration Department (ImmD), the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED), the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013; if it has, set out the details in Table; if not, whether it will consider maintaining such records starting from this year?

Reply:

President,

Upon collating contributions from relevant bureaux/departments, my reply to Hon Leung’s question is as follows:

(a) On the day the Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests (IRC) issued its report, the Government made public that it agreed in principle with the recommendations made by the IRC and that it would consider how to follow up and implement individual recommendations.  The Government has so far implemented about half of the recommendations, including revising the Code for Officials under the Political Appointment System and other administrative arrangements regulating the handling of conflict of interest and other matters concerning Politically Appointed Officials.  The Administration is following up on the remaining recommendations in earnest, including the IRC’s recommendation of amending the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (POBO).  As the recommendation involves legislative amendments, the Administration has to exercise great care and to examine and consider in detail and comprehensively the legislative proposals, including the feasibility at the operational level and the possible impact on the existing POBO.

(b) and (c) On prevention of conflicts of interests, in order to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the civil service in discharging their duties, the Administration has put in place a regulatory framework which is applicable to all civil servants.  This is to ensure that no actual or perceived conflicts of interests shall arise between a civil servant’s official duties and his private interests.  We have from time to time reviewed the regulatory framework and, where necessary, updated the relevant guidelines, including providing additional guidelines on the role of supervisors; actions to be taken in managing conflicts of interests situations; and setting out more examples of conflicts of interests situations which civil servants should guard against.  We will continue to keep the rules and guidelines under review.

As regards hospitality and entertainment, bureaux/departments, out of operational needs, have to maintain regular liaison and contact with different sectors, including Legislative Councillors, District Councillors, political parties, the media, local communities and officials of other governments.  In incurring expenses arising from their presence at functions in their official capacity, officers have to comply with the relevant requirements of the Civil Service Regulations (CSRs) and the internal guidelines issued by the Administration Wing with a view to ensuring the proper use of public funds.

The CSRs set out the principle, regulations and approval procedures governing official entertainment.  Heads of bureaux/departments have the delegated authority to authorise all expenditures from the departmental entertainment vote.  Separately, the Administration Wing has issued internal guidelines to all bureaux/departments in respect of official entertainment, which cover the ceilings of expenditure for entertaining guests on lunches and dinners being $350 and $450 per person respectively.  The Administration has reminded all bureaux/departments to exercise economy in official entertainment when entertaining guests.  Where there are sufficient justifications for exceeding the expenditure ceilings, the bureaux/departments are required to consider those applications according to the established mechanism and to document properly the justifications for granting such approvals.  The Administration will review the regulations and guidelines governing official entertainment from time to time.

As regards offering of souvenirs or gifts, the Government of the current term upholds the principles of honesty, simplicity and economy, and it does not accept or exchange souvenirs or gifts in ordinary functions and activities.  If there is a need to go through the protocol for exchanging souvenirs or gifts, appropriate souvenirs or gifts would be procured with regard to the capacity of the guests and the occasions to ensure proper use of public funds.  Bureaux/Departments, in procuring supplies including souvenirs or gifts, are required to comply with the “Stores and Procurement Regulations”.

As regards integrity checking, all directorate officers are subject to an integrity checking.  The integrity checking system seeks to enable the appointment authority to determine whether prospective appointees or serving officers possess good characters and integrity for the delivery of the duties of the relevant posts.  The Administration will continue to ensure that the system will contribute to public confidence in the civil service system.

(d) Bureaux/departments are required to observe the relevant requirements under the CSRs and the internal guidelines issued by the Administration Wing as mentioned in the replies to parts (b) and (c) above in organising official entertainment activities. The departmental entertainment vote expenses for local entertainment incurred by the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), the Immigration Department (ImmD), the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED), the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) from 2008-2009 to 2012-2013 are set out at Annex. Bureaux/Departments do not maintain separate accounts for the expenses relating to individual subjects of entertainment.