Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah has allegedly been involved in a decision allowing the Hong Kong Army Cadets to acquire a grant despite potential conflicts of interest, newspaper Ming Pao has reported.

The Cadets, established last January, have ties with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, General Tan Benhong of the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, and the director of the China Liaison Office, Beijing’s organ in the territory. Leung’s wife, Regina Tong Ching-yee, is the commander-in-chief of the group.

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Lau Kong-wah attended an HK Army Cadets event. Photo: HK Army Cadets, via Facebook.

New centre and HK$30 million grant

Ming Pao reported last week that the Home Affairs Bureau awarded the youth cadets in June a 30,000-square-metre vacant campus to be used as its new centre. The Cadets, with around 500 members, beat two other uniformed groups with longer histories and larger memberships.

The bureau told one of the groups that the decision was based on the Cadets’ lack of headquarters and sufficient financial resources to renovate the centre. A spokesperson for the Boys’ Brigade criticised the government for giving special treatment to organisations with “strong” political and financial backgrounds.

The newspaper reported Monday that the Cadets had been granted HK$30 million to renovate its new centre by the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries, a statutory body under the Home Affairs Bureau.

The documents revealed that after the Home Affairs Bureau awarded the Cadets the plot of land, the group submitted on the same day a 60-page grant application to the Board. The Board approved its application seven days later.

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s wife Tong Ching-yee attended an HK Army Cadets event. Photo: HK Army Cadets, via Facebook.

Given that the granting of the new centre took 18 days, the Cadets were able to obtain a plot of land and a grant in a mere 25 days’ time.

The Board had to give “special approval” to the Cadets’ application as it fell “outside the annual donation exercise,” according to the report. The approval was passed without a vote or any opposition from members.

Lau, who chaired the grant meeting, is both the chairman of the Board and an honorary advisor of the Cadets. In other words, the official belongs to all three parties involved in the two applications.

The highest single grant given by the Board was previously only HK$3 million. In 2014, the Board donated nearly HK$26 million, still falling short of the HK$30 million grant to the Cadets.

‘Light-speed approval’

The Home Affairs Bureau said that there is no conflict of interest, because Lau’s advisory position in the Cadets does not relate to the group’s operations.

Lam Cheuk-ting, lawmaker of the Democratic Party and former anti-graft commissioner, said that the “light-speed approval” of the land and grant applications shows that “there was a pre-written script.” He criticised the home affairs secretary for disregarding procedural fairness by sitting on all of the three bodies involved.

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Lau Kong-wah attended an HK Army Cadets event. Photo: HK Army Cadets, via Facebook.

But lawyer and industrial (second) sector lawmaker Jimmy Ng Wing-ka said that the government’s intention to help the youth cadets was “understandable” because the group is newly established and lacks resources. Ng said he welcomed the government’s speedy handling of the applications.

He added that there is no conflict of interest since Lau has not gained actual benefits from the process.

The Cadets’ first financial report obtained by Ming Pao shows that the group received donations of over HK$26 million in the last year, more than the combined funds raised by nine subsidised uniformed groups in the territory.

The group plans to spend a total of HK$60 million to renovate its new centre.

The board members of the Cadets include ex-police commissioner Lee Ming-kwai and Tang King-shing, former police assistant commissioner Fung Siu-yuen, and former correctional services head Sin Yat-kin.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.