Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah has denied allegations that he gave preferential treatment to the Hong Kong Army Cadets – a newly established uniformed group with ties to Hong Kong and Chinese officials – after a grant application was given “special approval” within seven days.

The Ming Pao newspaper revealed Monday that the Cadets were awarded a piece of land and a HK$30 million grant all within the space of 25 days. Lau’s leadership positions in all of the three parties involved in the applications raised questions about potential conflicts of interests.

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

HK$30 million grant

In June, the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries gave “special approval” to the grant application by the Cadets, confidential documents received by Ming Pao revealed. The report also said that Lau chaired the grant meeting, and the approval was passed without a vote or any opposition from members.

Lau said Thursday that although he is the board’s chair, the grant applicant was approved in accordance with a formal procedure. There was no preferential treatment to the youth cadets, he said.

The official said that while he is an honorary advisor to the Cadets, he also holds honorary titles at a dozen other organisations. There is also no conflict of interest, he said, because he was never involved in the everyday operations of the Cadets.

Land issue

The newspaper also reported last week that the Home Affairs Bureau awarded the 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.

Lau said that the land application was also approved in accordance with procedures, and that the government hopes to give assistance to uniformed youth groups as they are “very important.” He added that the Cadets’ application was the most outstanding among the three.

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Hong Kong Army Cadets. Photo: Hong Kong Army Cadets, via Facebook.

Asked to explain why the Cadets’ application was better, Lau told the press to refer to the bureau’s previous responses.

The bureau told Ming Pao earlier that the assessment criteria included financial proposals, estimated completion time of renovation, and the number of facilities available for the applicants’ use.

It also told one of the unsuccessful applicants that the Cadets need some headquarters and had 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 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 commander-in-chief of the group.

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Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (L) poses with his wife Regina Tong. File photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace.

See also: Home Affairs Sec. helps youth cadets acquire HK$30m grant despite ‘conflict of interest’ – report

In June, the Cadets applied to the Home Affairs Bureau for the vacant campus to be used as its new centre. The application was approved in 18 days. After the bureau informed the Cadets of the award, the group submitted – on the same day – the application for a HK$30 million grant, and received approval in seven days.

Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who is a 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.

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