Stricter con­flict- of-in­ter­est guide­lines set for politi­cians

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By KAHON CHAN in HK kahon@chi­nadai­

Po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed se­nior of­fi­cials will face stricter reg­u­la­tions on po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­ests af­ter the govern­ment re­leased a new set of guide­lines that broadly define “pri­vate in­ter­ests” on Wed­nes­day.

The 11-page plan, posted on the web­site of the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive’s Of­fice on Aug 1 to com­ple­ment the Code for Off icials Un­der the Po­lit­i­cal Ap­point­ment Sys­tem, cov­ers in­ter­ests of the of­fi­cial’s per­sonal friends and “groups of peo­ple with whom he has so­cial ties”.

The doc­u­ment out­lines con­di­tions for the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive (CE) and the of­fi­cials to de­ter­mine what sit­u­a­tion may con­sti­tute a con­flict of in­ter­est for a po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed of­fi­cial (PAO) and how to pre­vent prac­ti­cal or per­ceived prob­lems.

Mem­bers of the po­lit­i­cal team will re­port to the CE or their su­per­vis­ing prin­ci­pal offi- cial if a PAO’s “pri­vate in­ter­ests” com­pete or con­flict with the “in­ter­ests of the govern­ment” or the of­fi­cial du­ties of the PAO.

Once the case of po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est is es­tab­lished, the CE will de­cide what ac­tion should be taken, such as re­liev­ing the PAO from the task that may cre­ate the con­flict or re­quir­ing the PAO to di­vest him­self of all or any of the in­ter­ests.

It was the def­i­ni­tion of “pri­vate in­ter­ests” that raised eye­brows on Wed­nes­day – it is stated as those that “go be­yond pe­cu­niary in­ter­ests” and in­cludes “cir­cum­stances in which a tie of kin­ship or friend­ship, or some other as­so­ci­a­tion or loy­alty” is in­volved.

Apart from the PAO’s own in­ter­ests, he also has to look into in­ter­ests held by “fam­ily or other re­la­tions”, “per­sonal friends”, “clubs and as­so­ci­a­tions” to which he/she be­longs, “any other groups of peo­ple with whom he/she has per­sonal or so­cial ties” or “any per­son to whom he/she owes a fa­vor or is ob­li­gated in any way”.

The prac­ti­cal­ity of th­ese def­i­ni­tions raised ques­tions from law­mak­ers. Wong Kwok-hing of the Hong Kong Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions said the def­i­ni­tion has gone too far and doubted if so­cial ties made be­fore adult­hood are also cov­ered.

Jef­frey Lam Kin-fung of the Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sion­als Al­liance for Hong Kong, who also serves on the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil (ExCo), said friends that meet fre­quently do not nec­es­sar­ily talk about per­sonal as­sets. “It might be very hard to know if there is a con­flict of in­ter­est,” he said.

While for­mer civil ser­vice sec­re­tary, Joseph Wong Wing­ping, de­scribed the guide­lines as a sign of progress, he ad­vised the ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­prove trans­parency in light of the re­cent po­lit­i­cal storm sur­round­ing de­vel­op­ment chief Paul Chan Mo-po.

Chan’s wife had held in­ter­ests in three plots that are to be ac­quired by the govern­ment for a new town de­vel­op­ment. He made an oral dis­clo­sure to the CE in Oc­to­ber last year.

Had the guide­lines been en­forced by then, both Chan’s re­port and the CE’s “man­age­ment ac­tions” would have to be recorded “prop­erly”. But the new doc­u­ment ap­par­ently does not man­date pub­li­ca­tion of th­ese records.

Th­ese new rules are made in re­sponse to rec­om­men­da­tions made by the In­de­pen­dent Re­view Com­mit­tee for the Preven­tion and Han­dling of Po­ten­tial Con­flicts of In­ter­est. The com­mit­tee only sug­gested re­veal­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est to the pub­lic if the PAO is with­drawn from the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process.

A spokesman of the Con­sti­tu­tional and Main­land Af­fairs Bureau said in a state­ment that the guide­lines posted last week were only part of a se­ries of work to im­ple­ment rec­om­men­da­tions made by the com­mit­tee in May 2012.

He also ex­plained ref­er­ence was made to ex­ist­ing guide­lines for the civil ser­vice when the broad cri­te­ria were adopted for “pri­vate in­ter­ests”.

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