A day before a motion debate in the Legislative Council to reaffirm support for recommendations made by its Public Accounts Committee over the Grand Promenade saga, legislators received the backing of the Audit Commission - the government's "value-for- money" watchdog.
Director of Audit Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun said Tuesday he would support the recommendations made by the committee in its February report.
The controversy was sparked by former director of buildings Leung Chin- man's decision to change the class of Grand Promenade, a site for which Henderson Land won with a land premium of HK$2.43 billion in January 2001. Six months later, the developer, controlled by Lee Shau-kee, applied to exclude the public transport terminus from the gross floor area in its building plan.
Leung, in his capacity as the Building Authority, a separate post he holds in which he exercises duties independent from those he wields as buildings director, granted the request, allowing the addition of 10,700 square meters to the project and doubling the number of apartments from 1,008 to 2,020.
A government-appointed panel, headed by Court of Final Appeal judge Barry Mortimer, found no abuse of power by Leung. But the Public Accounts Committee said the Building Authority's move cost the government HK$125 million in potential revenue.
In November, the Audit Commission said that move handed the developer an additional HK$3.2 billion.
But the government investigation concluded that Leung's decision did not cost the government money as it was made after the site had been sold.
Appearing before Legco a week ago, Chief Secretary for Administration Rafael Hui Si-yan said that as the panel's recommendations were similar to those raised by the Public Accounts Committee, the government had decided to accept both reports "in full."
Lawmakers rejected Hui's announcement, saying accepting both reports was "senseless" and "impossible" as they were "wildly different." Consequently, the Legco was requested to debate the issue today.
Tang stressed the commission's value-for-money audit report released in October only targeted "systems, not individuals."
"Audit reports are forward-looking. They aim to make suggestions to help audited bodies [government bureaus, departments and other public bodies or organizations] achieve economy, efficiency and effectiveness," he said.
"The subjects of audit reviews are the work and systems of audited bodies and not the incumbent officers or their predecessors. In other words, audit reports focus on the work and systems, not individuals."
Tang said the commission would support the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee.
"The government has accepted the recommendations made by the Director of Audit and endorsed by the committee, and has already taken positive steps to implement them.
The commission supports the committee urging the administration to fully implement the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee," he said.
He noted that as the government- appointed panel applied a different objective and focus in their investigation, the difference in their conclusions would not jeopardize the credibility of the Audit Commission.