Script: Listening Plus - Donald Tsang's light bulb saga

Script: Listening Plus - Donald Tsang's light bulb saga

Kit: Hello this is listening plus and you are with Young Post reporter Lai Ying-kit. Today we will be talking about the furore involving Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s light bulb scheme. Joining me to discuss is my colleague Ambrose Leung. He is senior political reporter of the South China Morning Post. So first off, how did the controversy begin?

Ambrose: The controversy really started after Donald Tsang delivered his policy address on October 14. In his address, as part of the green policy to protect the environment, Donald Tsang pushed for a scheme which would encourage people to use more energy saving bulbs instead of the current light bulbs which would be harmful to the environment. The scheme will cost HK$240 million, and 2.4 million electricity users in HK each will be given a HK$100 coupon so they can use the money to buy energy saving bulbs from selected retailers. But people started questioning this scheme two days after Tsang delivered his policy address when several newspapers reported that the father-in-law of his eldest son is a major distributor for Philips which sells a lot of these energy saving bulbs. It has a market share of up to 50 per cent. Now people criticise him for allegedly trying to transfer benefits to the father of his eldest son in this scheme which he has never declared the interest before he announced his policy address. Critics have questioned Tsang’s motives because it was quite plain that Anthony Mok, the father-in-law of his eldest son, would benefit from this scheme. Anthony Mok is a director of a company Supermoon Holdings which has a subsidiary called Electric Fever and that company is a major distributor for Philips. With this scheme, when up to 2.4 million users are given the HK$100 coupon, the sales of these energy saving bulbs are expected to surge. Critics believe that since Mok would stand to benefit from the surge in these energy saving bulbs, Donald Tsang has to clarify whether he was trying to transfer interest to Mok when making this policy.

Kit: So what is Donald Tsang’s response to this allegation?

Ambrose: On the day the story broke in some Chinese newspapers, Donald Tsang immediately gave a stand-up briefing to the media denying that he has ever tried to transfer benefits to Anthony Mok. He further clarified that the reason why he has never made any declaration on the business of his in law was because the current system which requires him and his officials to make declaration interests when making policy does not include any relatives except the husband or wife of the official and their children. And in any case, he said that he did not believe that any interest had been transferred so he did not consider there was any conflict of interest. A question has been raised on whether the current interest declaration system in the Executive Council which is Donald Tsang’s was adequate. Lawmakers believe that this light bulb saga has clearly demonstrated the inadequacy of the declaration system and have called for change. While almost nobody truly believe that Donald was really trying to transfer benefits to his son’s father-in-law , most of them consider made a blunder for failing to be sensitive enough.

Kit: What did Anthony Mok have to say?

Ambrose: A few days after the so-called scandal broke, Anthony Mok issued a statement to several Chinese newspapers, expressing his unhappiness with the whole so called scandal. Basically, in the statement he just reiterated he that he did not know about the policy before it was announced and he was clearly not trying to get any benefit from such policy. Because he is only one distributor of these energy saving bulbs made by Philips, he would not be the sole beneficiary of this scheme. And anyhow he said that his business sells both energy-saving bulbs and normal bulbs so that while he may be getting more sale figures, the sales of other bulbs will drop. So whether he would really reap a great sale from this scheme was questionable, he said.

Kit: What are the responses of legislators and other politicians?

Ambrose: Well, as I have mentioned already, most pan democrats believed that Donald Tsang has made a stupid oversight for failing to come clean before he made this policy while government supporters also did not believe Donald was intentionally trying to transfer interest to his son’s father-in-law. But almost all of them believe that there is a need to at least revamp the present declaration system among officials. One of the more radical factions in the legislature, the League of Social Democrats, have started studying whether it is possible to file a judicial review against the policy. There are two main things politicians are looking at right now. One is whether Donald had tried to transfer interest to his in law. The other is whether this light bulb scheme would actually benefit the people. One very serious question has been raised by politicians was that while all electric users would be given a HK$100 cash coupon, the electric companies would be allowed to raise tariffs in exchange for giving out these coupons. So really the government is paying nothing for this scheme because the money will be coming from the consumers’ own pockets through the raising of tariffs. Now the League of Social Democrats have questioned this scheme, because right now the adjustment of electric tariffs is based on a mechanism which, they question, does not mention anything about coupons in exchange of raising tariffs. So some politicians are questioning that part of the policy and the government appears backing down from it with the Environment Bureau saying that there could be improvements in this part of the light bulb policy.

Kit: Is the bureau planning to do any changes to the scheme?

Ambrose: Officially, the Environment Bureau has promised to improve the scheme. Government sources have indicated that there are rooms to adjust this tariff adjustment decision because it was not really well thought through. There are hopes that electric users can still get the coupons without having to pay more for their electricity if the pressure in the legco is to be kept, especially when Donald Tsang is really having a crisis with his popularity. Because according to some popularity polls the public satisfaction rate of his policy address this year is the lowest among the five policy addresses he has delivered since 2005. If we have read Chinese newspaper, we cannot fail to notice that there are some headline screams that Donald Tsang was worse than Tung Chee-hwa. Because in fact the satisfaction rate of his policy address this year was lower than the lowest experienced by Tung. A lot of politicians have suggested that the interest declaration system in the Executive Council should be reviewed. Some believe that the people which should be included in the declaration system should be extended to other family members of the officials including their in laws, brother and sisters. Others believe that it would be difficult to draw this line because there are a lot of issues officials have to consider, for example privacy issues. So really I think when Secretary for Constitution and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam would brief lawmakers next month in Legco meetings on the declaration system, I doubt that any serious would be made to this system.

Kit: Ok. Thank you, Ambrose. Thank you for joining us.

Ambrose: Thank you.

Kit: Goodbye.


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