Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has compared an incident where three top officials violated Covid-19 social distancing rules at a nine-person dinner to receiving a parking ticket.

“[W]e do not require civil servants to report where they have committed fixed penalty offences, and fixed penalty offences happen in terms of driving, illegal parking, and on this occasion… breaching the limit on gathering,” said Lam at a Tuesday press conference.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Director of Immigration, Au Ka-wang, Customs and Excise Commissioner Hermes Tang, and the Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au admitted last week to attending a dinner at a private Wan Chai club in early March.

When asked if the officials had violated the Civil Service Code, Lam said that – as she knew the standing of the three officials – she thought that no further investigation was needed. She also refused to answer whether any mainland Chinese officials in Hong Kong had attended the dinner.

‘Lavish, unreasonable’

Lam was challenged as to whether the behaviour of the officials should be examined by the anti-corruption watchdog. Under the Acceptance of Advantages (Chief Executive’s Permission) Notice, “a civil servant must avoid any lavish, unreasonably generous or frequent entertainment that may lead to embarrassment in performing official duties or bring the Civil Service into disrepute.”

“I think one has to take an overall view about this sort of events – there is no definition of what is a ‘lavish’ dinner, there is no definition of what is being ‘unreasonable,’ and so on,” said Lam.

Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au , and Commissioner for Customs and Excise Hermes Tang
Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au , and Commissioner for Customs and Excise Hermes Tang. Photo: GovHK.

“However, with the past week’s coverage, including a lot of smearing and personal attacks online, these three colleagues have already paid a price outside the realm of the law, that’s why I said earlier that I hope that the matter could be put to rest.”

In 2013, ex-chief executive Leung Chun-ying set up an independent review committee after Timothy Tong, former commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption of Hong Kong, was accused of using public funds for entertainment activities.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.