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Tsang exceeds the limit on excursion to Brazil

Chief executive’s junket went way over budget for senior civil servants

26 April 2012


The bill for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s stay in a Brasilia hotel’s “presidential” suite exceeded the cap on his own officials’ daily expense allowance for visiting the Brazilian capital by 23 times.

The controversy over Tsang’s hotel bill gained momentum yesterday after TVB (SEHK: 0511) reported that Hong Kong’s Economic and Trade Office (ETO) in Washington had spent HK$1.6 million on two visits to prepare for Tsang’s trips and on accompanying the chief executive to Brasilia.

According to the Civil Service Bureau, the limit for civil servants’ daily overseas subsistence allowance in Brasilia is 557 Brazilian reals (HK$2,300), more than 23 times Tsang’s US$6,900 (HKD$53,820) bill for his one-night stay in the presidential suite of the Royal Tulip Brasilia Alvorada hotel earlier this month.

Tsang’s bill is also 22 times the US$317 daily lodging and meal allowance for all US civilian officials visiting Brasilia, according to the US State Department’s website.

Citing “working needs” to justify his choice of hotel, Tsang has invited the Audit Commission to probe his spending during his nine-day trip to New Zealand, Chile and Brazil.

“We followed the rules and procedures. The most important thing is we made the decisions according to working needs,” said Tsang. “I believe inviting the [Audit Commission’s director] to examine the arrangements will allow us to scrutinise the situation more objectively.”

Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun, the commission’s director, confirmed that the expenses would be examined by his office, and said the study would focus on whether the spending conformed to “the conservative and moderate principle”. He expected the probe would take a month.

Chief Executive’s Office director Professor Gabriel Leung Cheuk-wai said Tsang had not been involved in choosing the accommodation: “We did not seek approval from the chief executive on the choice of hotels. The presidential suite was needed to provide room for internal meetings, reception of guests and handling of any ad hoc events.

“The nearest ETO [to any destination to be visited by the chief executive] will do the planning for his transport and accommodation a few months or even half a year ahead of the visit,” Leung said.

TVB reported that the Washington ETO paid two site visits, in October and March, spending HK$760,000 on flights alone. Five of the office’s eight staff members took part in the October visit, while seven went on the trip in March.

Lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung said taxpayers’ money had been “wasted” on Tsang’s excursion to Brazil.

“Would Donald Tsang please stop dreaming of being the president,” Leung said. He also feared any review by Tang, the audit commissioner, would be too late and only forward-looking, allowing Tsang to leave office unscathed when his term ends on June 30.

Tanya Chan from the Civic Party also doubted whether it had been necessary for ETO staff to make the two site visits to Brasilia.

Wong Kwok-hing, lawmaker from the Federation of Trade Unions, said the Independent Review Committee for the Prevention and Handling of Potential Conflicts of Interests should draw up guidelines for the chief executive’s overseas trips.

The panel, headed by former Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, has been set up to examine the rules of behaviour for top officials after a conflict-of-interest row erupted over Tsang’s alleged acceptance of favours from tycoon friends.

However, New People’s Party chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said such guidelines would be unnecessary. “It is the job of the Chief Executive’s Office to draw up a guideline with reference to the current strict rules regulating civil servants.”

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan also agreed that any guidelines were the Chief Executive Office’s responsibility. “Donald Tsang has been a civil servant for so many years. Does he not know that public servants have to be careful?”

A spokeswoman for the review committee said it had “noted media interest in this matter”.


Description: Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has asked the Audit Commission to take a closer look at his travel expenses.

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