Lawmakers have criticised the HK$5 million spent on the state leader Zhang Dejiang’s three-day visit to Hong Kong last year.
People Power lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen said there were 180 visits made by overseas dignitaries and national leaders to Hong Kong in 2015 at a combined cost of HK$850,000. In 2016, there were 169 visits to the city, but the expenses increased to HK$7 million.
Official visitors are received by the government Protocol Division.
Director of Protocol Judy Li confirmed Zhang’s visit cost around HK$5 million, following questions raised by Chan in the legislature. However, the sum did not include security costs.
Zhang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, is the third-ranking state leader.
Lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, said it was an “extravagance” to spend such an amount of money.
“What was the HK$5 million spent on? Did he eat golden leaves during meals?” Leung said.
Li said that when overseas dignitaries and national leaders visit Hong Kong, the government will arrange a “more decent” visitor package in order to show respect.
“[Expenses in] different years cannot be compared – every visit in every year has its own characteristics. But we will remember to use public funds carefully,” Li said. “We form our budget on the basis of past experience.”
The Council’s Establishment Subcommittee was discussing a proposal to officially replace the director of protocol position with a senior principal executive officer with the same pay rank. The director position has been filled by a senior principal executive officer since 1998.
Lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung suggested the position should be filled by an administrative officer – political cadets in the government – since the role includes political tasks.
Jennifer Chan, Deputy Director of the Administration Wing under the chief secretary, said a senior principal executive officer would usually have 20 years of experience in the government in administrative tasks, and they would be suitable for the position.
“They would have a certain degree of political sensitiveness,” she said.
The government’s proposal suggestion was passed by the Subcommittee and will be discussed by the Finance Committee.