Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (March 1):
The Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) indicated on February 3 this year that, in response to the recommendations of Report No. 63 of the Director of Audit and the relevant report of the Public Accounts Committee of this Council, it had completed an investigation into the non-compliance incidents of the new Civil Aviation Department (CAD) Headquarters project. THB pointed out that the dedicated investigation team (the dedicated team), led by a Deputy Secretary of THB, was responsible for clarifying the specific circumstances and causes of the non-compliance incidents as well as investigating whether there were CAD officers who had misconducted themselves. Pursuant to the evidence gathered from the investigation and in accordance with established civil service procedures, the authorities have taken summary disciplinary action against the officer concerned. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the terms of reference and membership list of the dedicated team;
(2) of the number of CAD officers summoned by the dedicated team to give evidence or provide information during the course of investigation;
(3) as the investigation findings showed that there was evidence indicating that two directorate officers of CAD had misconducted themselves, of the details of such misconduct, as well as the disciplinary actions taken against them by the authorities and the justifications thereof;
(4) given that one of the persons mentioned in (3) has already retired causing the civil service disciplinary mechanism inapplicable to that person, whether the authorities have, apart from recording such acts of misconduct on the personnel file of that person, taken any further follow-up actions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) of the findings of the criminal investigation undertaken by a law enforcement agency into the incidents; and
(6) whether the authorities will make public the investigation report of the dedicated team; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In Chapter 3 of the Director of Audit’s Report No. 63 which was submitted to the Legislative Council (LegCo) on November 20, 2014, it set out the review of the provision of office accommodation and facilities in the new Civil Aviation Department (CAD) Headquarters and the relevant recommendations on areas for improvement. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the LegCo subsequently conducted public hearings on the above project and published a report on February 11 , 2015. With regard to the non-compliance incidents of the new CAD Headquarters mentioned in the Director of Audit’s Report, the CAD has taken follow-up actions and reminded its staff to comply with the relevant requirements.
For the last issue requiring follow-up action in the PAC report, i.e. an investigation by the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) on the non-compliance incidents of the new CAD Headquarters project, the THB reported the investigation findings to the PAC on February 3 this year (i.e. 2017). The findings have also been announced in paragraph 27 of Part 4 of the PAC Report No. 67 (Annex) issued on February 15.
We understand the public’s concern over this issue. In any case of misconduct by government officers, the THB has strictly followed the established civil service procedures to conduct necessary investigation and take appropriate follow-up actions, including administrative and disciplinary actions, in a fair and impartial manner. The THB has made timely reports to the PAC on the investigation progress since the commencement of the internal investigation, and on the investigation findings on February 3 this year. A press release was also issued on the same day in response to the media enquiries on this matter.
My reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Kenneth Leung is as follows:
(1) The dedicated investigation team of the THB is led by a Deputy Secretary and composed of a Chief Executive Officer employed on contract terms under the Post-retirement Service Contract Scheme and a Senior Treasury Accountant. The terms of reference of the team are:
1. to conduct a thorough, impartial and fair investigation in accordance with practices in the civil service, with a view to identifying non-compliance incidents and areas of concerns in the implementation of the new CAD Headquarters project;
2. to collect and establish evidence of misconduct, mismanagement and maladministration, if any, for consideration of taking administrative and/or disciplinary actions against officer(s) concerned; and
3. to make recommendations to the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) on whether administrative and/or disciplinary actions should be taken against any officers.
(2) During the course of investigation, the investigators of the THB requested a total of eight officers who worked in CAD then to provide information.
(3), (4) and (6) The investigation team of the THB strictly adhered to the established disciplinary procedures and guidelines of the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) throughout the investigation process. The investigation and analysis undertaken and the conclusion drawn were made in accordance with the following principles:
1. the investigation findings should be based on the established evidence of misconduct and other related information in the course of investigation, while the standard of proof was on a balance of probabilities;
2. the appropriateness of an act, conduct and behaviour of an officer was measured with reference to the relevant government policies, regulations, procedures, circulars, instructions or codes of practices, etc;
3. where no specific regulations or instructions were applicable in a particular case, the standard expected of an officer of his/her grade, rank and experience had been applied; and
4. more was expected from a senior officer, i.e. such officer should not rely only on written rules in discharging his/her duties, but also exercise professional judgement appropriately and assume a level of accountability commensurate with the position he/she held.
As mentioned above, according to the established disciplinary procedures of CSB, the standard of proof is on a balance of probabilities. The guiding principle is that the more serious the allegation, the more cogent is the evidence required to overcome the unlikelihood of what is alleged and thus to prove it.
As regards the principle of imposing specific penalty, the civil service disciplinary mechanism consists of summary disciplinary action and formal disciplinary action. The former includes verbal warnings and written warnings. Oral warnings are mainly issued against minor or isolated cases of misconduct by civil servants, while written warnings are issued against more serious cases, but the gravity of the misconduct does not require formal disciplinary action. A verbal or written warning will affect a civil servant’s promotion or appointment. In the event of repeated minor misconduct, or more serious misconduct (e.g. repeated absences from duty or abuse of official position, etc.), the relevant bureaux or departments may take formal disciplinary action against the civil servants concerned, i.e. to institute disciplinary proceedings in accordance with established procedures.
The necessary investigation and appropriate follow-up actions in this case have been undertaken in a fair and impartial manner. Taking into account the evidence gathered in the course of the investigation and balancing all relevant factors, there is evidence of misconduct by a senior directorate officer of the CAD. After seeking the advice of the Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline, the THB has taken the relevant disciplinary action against the officer concerned. In addition, the investigation revealed prima facie evidence indicating alleged acts of misconduct by a retired directorate officer of the CAD. As this officer had already retired during the course of the investigation, the civil service disciplinary mechanism is not applicable. Nevertheless, the THB has issued a letter to the retired officer concerned and also put the letter on the personnel file, clearly expressing the THB’s stance on the acts of misconduct alleged against the officer. The above action is in strict accordance with the established disciplinary procedures of CSB and practices in the civil service to ensure a fair and impartial investigation to the officers concerned and to the Government, as well as to safeguard the effectiveness of the civil service disciplinary mechanism.
We appreciate the public’s concern over this issue and yet are mindful of the responsibility to protect the privacy of the officers concerned and to abide by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. We believe that the information made public has struck a balance of all relevant considerations.
(5) According to the Government’s established policy, we will not comment on the work of law enforcement agencies or disclose any relevant information.