Following is a question by the Hon Lau Ping-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, in the Legislative Council today (June 26):
It has been reported that, at a hearing of a recent fraud case, a prosecution witness disclosed that a Senior Land Executive of the Lands Department had told some persons from the private sector on a private occasion that an application for change of land use in respect of a particular land development plan, if made, would stand a good chance of being approved. Subsequently, a bank granted a loan for the development plan, but in the end the plan was not approved by the Lands Department. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:
(a) there are guidelines governing government employees' attendance at functions which are commercial in nature or those which may give rise to conflicts of interests; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) the land executive concerned had informed his superior before attending that private occasion, and whether he had been authorized to comment to outside persons on the development of the land in question; and
(c) follow-up actions will be taken against the land executive; if so, of the details?
First of all, I would like to clarify that the parties to the litigation in this case do not involve Lands Department and its staff. Lands Department has never received any application for change of land use and has never contacted the defendants.
My reply to the three-part question from Mr Lau is as follows:
(a) There are clear guidelines requiring civil servants to be vigilant against conflict of interests at all times.
Existing civil service rules stipulate that it is a disciplinary offence for a civil servant to use or disclose any classified or sensitive information to benefit his private interests. In this context, private interests include the financial and other interests of the officer himself, his family or other relatives, his friends, the clubs and associations of which he is a member, or any person to whom he owes a favour or is obligated in any way.
Individual departments have issued internal circulars for compliance by their staff, covering areas where their staff may be exposed to conflict of interest situations and providing guidelines which govern the use of information obtained in an officer's official capacity.
Lands Department has also issued internal circulars with clear guidelines reminding its staff that in dealing with members of the public, they must follow the established guidelines, maintain good behaviour and avoid conflict of interests. Lands Department strictly enforces its internal circulars and the related civil service regulations and circulars, and takes appropriate action against any of its staff who have violated these rules.
(b) According to records, Lands Department did not receive any request from its staff seeking to participate in private meetings associated with the development project concerned or to comment to outside persons on the development of the land in question.
(c) The staff member concerned retired from the civil service in 1994. There was reportedly no charge brought against him in this case. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that there had been any improper behaviour on his part during his employment with the Lands Department. Therefore, there is no reason for us to take action against him.
End/Wednesday, June 26, 2002