Face Off: Was there a conflict of interest when Cathay Pacific paid for lawmakers' trip to France?

Face Off: Was there a conflict of interest when Cathay Pacific paid for lawmakers' trip to France?

Each week, our two teenagers debate a hot topic. This week ...
Sweetie Lui, 17, Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Secondary School (Affirmative)

A conflict of interest arises when someone's impartiality could be influenced by personal advantage. In this case, there was a conflict of interest because the lawmakers will be involved in decisions concerning Cathay Pacific, and the fact that they have gained benefits from the airline casts doubt on their judgment.

The lawmakers claimed the trip helped them gain a better understanding of aviation. But why was a family member sponsored as well? They went sightseeing and visited an Airbus factory. Why sightseeing? Why all the extras? Even a one-dollar "treat" can result in a conflict of interest.

Several lawmakers have made donations to charities in an attempt to clear up any doubts. I think they are merely trying to keep their own credibility intact because they have been severely criticised by the public for accepting the "junket".

It's no good saying that the lawmakers have promised not to do any favours in return for Cathay's generosity. It's all about trust and working for the benefit of the public who expect legislators to be unbiased when making decisions.

The France trip has showed that lawmakers can make a big mistake and still get away with it. It also shows that the acceptance of advantages can be justified without giving proper reasons. This puts doubts in people's minds about the impartiality of our legislators.

In this case, there was a conflict between public and private interests, and we should make sure it never happens again.

Tara Lee, 18, Cambridge University (Negative)

The Cathay Pacific-sponsored trip to Paris may look like a luxury holiday being passed off as a business trip, but we need to look at it more deeply. I think the lawmakers' enjoyment did not weaken their responsibility of representing voters' interests.

The trip enabled the legislators to understand new developments in the aviation industry, which plays a major role in tourism.

The programme included flights on a new Airbus model, a tour of the Airbus factory, and talks by Airbus and Cathay officials regarding the airline's plans to buy 50 Airbus aircraft in the next eight years. At the same time, Cathay voiced its concerns over low-cost airline Jetstar's entrance into the local market and stressed the need for a third runway at Chek Lap Kok.

Cathay invited the family members of lawmakers as a matter of courtesy; it was not an attempt to sway the latters' opinion. The same goes for sightseeing and the fact that their expenses were covered by Cathay.

By making the journey more attractive for the Legco members, Cathay showed sincerity in dealing with such busy and respectable people.

Crucially, the lawmakers were open about the trip. They discussed it in the Legislative Council; they were willing to clarify the issue to the public; and most of them donated tens of thousands of dollars each to charity to make up for the expenses.

Perhaps they were a little insensitive in accepting Cathay's over-generous treatment, yet they handled the controversy well. This shows that personal interests did not affect their duties as lawmakers. So there was no conflict of interest.


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