Gregory So Kam-leung, the former commerce Secretary, was invited recently by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party, to serve as its advisor, an offer that he accepted.
Under government rules, all former politically appointed officials have to undergo a one-year so-called “cooling-off period” after they step down from office.
During the cooling-off period, those who intend to serve as directors or partners in any private business or profession, or to start any business or profession on his or her account or with others, must seek the advice of an advisory committee beforehand.
Within the period, the former officials are strictly forbidden to engage in any lobbying activities on matters relating to the government.
Nevertheless, generally speaking, the current rules mainly apply to job offers that pay, but not voluntary, unpaid work, not to mention that there is a huge grey area over whether or not serving as advisors to political parties falls under the jurisdiction of the committee as well.
According to So, former DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung gave him the invitation last year, and he immediately sought the opinion of the government, only to be asked tons of questions such as what the format of DAB meetings is, whether these meetings would pass motions, and if yes, whether the motions are binding, etc.
He said he was simply “dumbfounded” in the face of these questions that went into such great details.
As a result, since the government appeared to be taking the matter very seriously, the DAB decided that it would be in its and So’s best interests to postpone the job offer until after the expiry of his cooling-off period in order to avoid potential troubles.
Now that the one-year period has ended — So relinquished his government job at end-June last year — he has taken up a position as party affairs advisor for the DAB, a group where he had once served as vice chairman.
There is good reason why the DAB and So made their moves with a lot of caution.
Last year, the government took issue with former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, saying Tsang had not declared to the advisory committee first before he took up assignment as a guest host for an RTHK TV program.
Tsang, in his defense, said it was unpaid work and that he did it as a social service, so he believed it had been unnecessary to notify the government.
Still, there was an intense debate about the whole affair, and Tsang found himself facing a lot of questions.
Given that controversy involving Tsang, the DAB and Greg So decided to play safe and wait until after the expiry of So’s cooling-off period.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 13
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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