Opinion | Spending by former Hong Kong leaders begs scrutiny


Every dollar spent by the government is subject to public scrutiny, even more so in times of a sagging economy and ballooning budget deficits. Office spending by ex-chief executives is a case in point.

As former heads of the administration, they are expected to spend just as conscientiously and responsibly as when they were at the helm.

The ongoing vetting of the government budget is an opportunity for lawmakers to review public spending, and it has been revealed that total expenses at the offices of the four former chief executives surged from HK$12.63 million (US$1.6 million) in 2021-22 to HK$17.85 million in 2022-23. It further spiralled to HK$20.99 million in the last financial year and is forecast to reach HK$22.07 million in the coming year, according to the Administration Wing that oversees the budget.

Of particular concern is last year’s HK$9.17 million bill for running the office of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. She is the only former leader with her office at prime commercial premises, because the original site at a historic building on Kennedy Road, Mid-Levels, is said to be fully utilised by her predecessors Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chun-ying.

Carrie Lam with tycoon Li Ka-shing ahead of the vote for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. While Lam is said to have attended more than 700 functions as a former city leader in the past two years, a lawmaker questions whether her office could be moved to a less expensive area. Photo: Reuters

Recurrent expenses for Lam’s 2,874 sq ft office at Pacific Place rose 31 per cent from HK$6.95 million in 2022-23, after rent and related expenses climbed from HK$4.43 million to HK$5.67 million. Total costs of her office accounted for 44 per cent of spending for all four offices.

This is not the first time spending at Lam’s office has come under the spotlight. The arrangement to put her in a grade A office tower two years ago inevitably put her under closer scrutiny.

Lam is said to have attended more than 700 promotional or protocol-related functions in her capacity as a former city leader in the past two years. But a lawmaker has questioned whether Lam’s office could be moved to a less expensive area, saying she should also experience the difficult times with the government and community.

Although former chief executives receive less media exposure and public attention after stepping down, and understandably still have public duties to carry out, the need for accountability and transparency remains unchanged. This is especially important when taxpayers have to foot the bill.



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