Candidates in Hong Kong’s first “patriots-only” legislative election have criticised two senior immigration officials who accepted gift hampers from an Evergrande executive director.

In two televised election forums hosted by Now News and RTHK, candidates were asked about follow-up action that should be taken, after Principal Immigration Officer Jacky Wong Ki and Deputy Director of Immigration Benson Kwok Joon-fung were found to have accepted gift hampers officially priced at HK$3,388 each.

Regina Ip of New People’s Party. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In the first discussion hosted by Now News on Thursday, Kowloon West constituency candidates Scott Leung (pro-establishment), Frederick Fung (non pro-establishment), and Vincent Cheng (pro-Beijing DAB) all said they would ask the two officials to explain themselves to the Legislative Council.

Fung and Cheng also called for an internal investigation into the matter. The value of the gift hampers exceeded the permissible amount of HK$3,000 for gifts under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, although their discount price did not top the limit.

During the other forum on RTHK, the chair of the New People’s Party Regina Ip, who is also a former head of the Immigration Department and former secretary for security, said that “officials, not just the Immigration Department, should not even accept gifts.”

Ip, who is running in the Hong Kong Island West constituency, said it would be “weird” if the immigration department did not have dealings with a large corporation.

Under the Acceptance of Advantages Notice 2010, officials are only allowed to accept gifts from close friends if they have no “official dealings with the department or organisation in which the prescribed officer works.”

Another candidate in the constituency, Chan Hok-fung from the DAB, said the officials should have had “more sensitive political acumen.”

“I think this incident itself might have been compliant, in the sense that they followed the procedure and it’s under HK$3,000 and does not have to be declared, but as senior public servants, I think there is a need for a higher standard of character,” said Chan.

Frederick Fung in an election forum held by Now News on December 9, 2021. Photo: Now News, via video screenshot.

The third candidate in the Hong Kong Island West constituency, Fong Lung-fei (independent), said officials should avoid accepting gifts, regardless of their value. “As someone who is honest, you should avoid arousing suspicion,” said Fong.

‘Out of reach’

Candidates also clashed on government policy. When debating land development policies, Ip questioned why Chan was “holding onto” Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan – a huge reclamation project off Lantau island.

“Are you just doing this to shield the government? Apart from environmental issues, I think it’s really out of reach,” said Ip.

In the Now News forum, candidates were asked to pick gifts for their opponents. Fung chose a bottle of makeup remover for Leung, who he said had once interned for the pro-democracy Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL).

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Not long after leaving ADPL…[Leung] immediately joined Hong Kong’s richest ‘big master’ organisation, serving ‘big masters.’ Now it’s election time, [Leung] said he is returning to the grassroots, and does not want the name of the big masters, but at the same time still wanting their support,” said Fung.

Leung has declared his political affiliation with a group called Kowloon West New Dynamic. He was previously a member of the pro-establishment Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.

On Thursday Leung said he was aiming to “take the baton” of the alliance from vice-chair Priscilla Leung, even he was no longer a member of the group.

Hong Kong Island West

  • Districts included: Central & Western District, Southern District, and Islands District
  • Projected population as at June 2021: 698,900
  • Number of registered voters: 374,302

Candidates:

  1. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee: Ip, a veteran politician, is the chairman and founder of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party and was Secretary for Security from 1998–2003. She is currently a member of both the Executive Council and Legislative Council.
  2. Chan Hok-fung: Chan was a District Councillor in Central & Western District for the pro-Beijing DAB from 2008 to 2019, when he lost against a pro-democracy candidate.
  3. Fong Lung-fei: Fong is a member of the Islands District Council after winning a seat against a candidate from the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions in 2019. He describes himself as a “pro-democracy independent candidate.”

Kowloon West

  • Districts included: Yau Tsim Mong District and Sham Shui Po District
  • Projected population as at June 2021: 780,000
  • Number of registered voters: 380,749

Candidates:

  1. Scott Leung Man-kwong: Leung was a District Councillor in Sham Shui Po from 2007 to 2019, when he lost to a pro-democratic candidate.
  2. Frederick Fung Kin-kee: Fung is a veteran democrat running as an independent.
  3. Vincent Cheng Wing-shun: Cheng represents the pro-Beijing DAB.

More about Beijing’s election overhaul – click to view

In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Where are Hong Kong’s opposition figures? – click to view

Major pan-democracy groups have not put forward any candidates following the Beijing-led overhaul. Most of the city’s opposition figures remain behind bars, are abroad in self-exile, have quit politics or are barred from running.

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Candice Chau

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.