Lawmakers fly into storm over Cathay trip to France

Top News | Kelly Ip 22 Aug 2013

A bitter row has erupted over whether a trip to France by an executive councillor and several lawmakers at the expense of Cathay Pacific Airways represents a conflict of interests.

The airline recently asked the government to reject an application by budget airline JetStar to operate from Hong Kong.

But the airline and several of the legislators on the trip denied any such conflict of interest, citing Cathay's intention to buy an Airbus fleet in the near future as the reason.

Among those accepting the trip - which would have cost each tens of thousands of dollars - were Beijing loyalists executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong from the Federation of Trade Unions, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong legislators Ip Kwok-him and Elizabeth Quat and independent Ma Fung-Kwok.

Also there were Albert Ho Chun-yan and James To Kun-sun from the Democratic Party and Kenneth Leung from the Professional Commons. All returned yesterday morning.

Several took their spouses on the weeklong trip, which took in a number of France's famed tourist spots and a visit to an Airbus factory.

Neo Democrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai criticized both Ho and To. Fan, who was not invited, said it is rare for Cathay to invite only some of the lawmakers.

"Lawmakers should judge prudently whether to accept such an invitation to avoid giving the public the impression that they will benefit from the trip."

Claudia Mo Man-ching said none of the six Civic Party lawmakers was invited. "It gives a wrong impression as they accepted the invitation as lawmakers yet took along their families."

Colleague Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said: "Visiting an Airbus factory is a business trip and it's inappropriate for the family to tag along."

Cathay, however, issued a statement insisting that there was no conflict of interest and the visit was intended to introduce the new Airbus A330 it recently acquired.

A spokesman said the airline regularly invites guests from various sectors of society to join such trips, aiming to help them gain a better understanding of the latest developments in the industry. The airline refused to provide trip details, citing privacy concerns.

Ip also denied there was any conflict of interest, saying he had informed the Legislative Council of the trip before flying off last week.

Leung said he too informed Legco but would not mind donating the amount spent on expenses to charity.

In a statement, To said that as Cathay will be buying 50 Airbus aircraft over the next eight years, it is reasonable for lawmakers to find out more about such a big investment.

Ho admitted he lacked sensitivity when accepting the invitation, saying he understands the public concern.

"It's the first time I have accepted the invitation despite being invited several times," he said. "I also understand that similar arrangements have been a practice for years."

Legislators are required to declare any sponsored overseas visit within 14 days of returning to Hong Kong.

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