SCMP Tuesday, August 1, 2000

ELECTION 2000

Former civil servant 'just another citizen'

JIMMY CHEUNG and MAY SIN-MI HON


Claims that the former home affairs secretary has a conflict of interest in running for a Legco seat were dismissed yesterday by a senior government official.

Defending David Lan Hon-tsung's decision to stand in the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency, Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Robin Ip Man-fai said his retired colleague had the same right as any other citizen to stand.

The policy was to allow all eligible candidates to take part rather than to put up hurdles, Mr Ip said.

On Sunday, just days after ending his career as a civil servant, Mr Lan announced he would lead the New Century Forum ticket in the constituency.

Mr Ip said existing laws barred judicial and public officers from standing in elections. "Basic Law article 26 states clearly that a permanent resident has electoral rights," he said. "As for Mr Lan, my understanding is that he is no longer a civil servant. The law does not restrict any former civil servants from running."

Mr Lan's involvement in the voter registration drive before his retirement had raised concern that his swift decision to stand involved a conflict of interest. But Mr Ip dismissed suggestions that Mr Lan would have an advantage arising from his former position. "He will have to canvass votes like other candidates if he wants to win," he said.

Mr Ip said retired officials abusing government information would be in breach of the Official Secrets Ordinance, and Mr Lan's performance would be subject to close public monitoring if he was elected. Retired officials are required to seek government approval before taking up private sector jobs, but the guidelines do not mention standing in elections after retirement.

Mr Ip denied there were any loopholes in the rules. Neither was there a need to impose a period prohibiting officials involved in electoral affairs from campaigning after retirement. Asked if Mr Lan's political affiliation had compromised the neutrality of the civil service, Mr Ip said Mr Lan was just an ordinary citizen.

Non-affiliated Hong Kong Island candidate Ronald Fung, seen as the dark horse in the constituency, said he welcomed Mr Lan's participation and was not worried that his own supporters would change their backing.

Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun denied he had had discussions with Mr Lan inviting him to stand for the party.

Mr Lan had a chance in the poll but his background was not necessarily an asset, he said.