Secretary for Education Eddie Ng has hit back at criticism of his travel record, saying that critics do not understand the accomplishments he has made during his official trips.
The remarks were in response to long-running criticism of his frequent travels. Ng has undertaken at least 60 work trips over the past five years – a trip per month, on average, and three times as many overseas visits than his predecessor. The trips cost over HK$3 million.
Ng took 17 official overseas trips during the last fiscal year. His most expensive trip was an eight-day visit to Peru and the United States last October, costing over HK$400,000. Between April and June, Ng went on at least six overseas trips, including to the United Kingdom, Myanmar, Vietnam and Beijing.
Critics have argued that it is not necessary for a bureau head to attend every overseas meeting, and that Ng’s priority as education chief should be to tackle controversial local issues, such as the much-disputed Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) policy.
Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping wrote in newspaper AM730 last Wednesday that Ng’s travel record was “unprecedented.” He criticised Ng for missing at least three legislative sessions owing to his travel plans.
Citing the Basic Law that requires the government to answer to the legislature, Wong said: “Normally, official trips do not justify officials’ absence at legislative meetings, unless the trips are extremely important. Shouldn’t Ng be held partly responsible for the poor executive-legislative relationship in the current term?”
But Ng said Monday that he felt “wronged” for being targeted for his travel record, RTHK reported. “People even count a half-day trip to Shenzhen [as travelling],” he said, adding that he attended meetings for the most parts of his trips.
He said he is sometimes “upset” about the criticism, as he believes his critics are being unfair to his hosts during the trips and deliberately overlook the accomplishments that arose out of his official trips.
“Policies are not created out of thin air,” he was quoted as saying by Apple Daily. “Like my exchange in Zhuhai, I visited the Chimelong Paradise [amusement park] even though I was very busy… and we eventually struck deals over internship opportunities.”
He criticised the Legislative Council for vetoing a proposal that would give HK$1 billion worth of scholarships to students from One Belt, One Road countries in order to study in Hong Kong.
Ng is one of the most controversial officials in the current administration. In the latest survey by the University of Hong Kong, he was rated as the second least popular senior official, after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
He came under fire in 2015 after he missed a public hearing at the legislature over TSA tests for “personal reasons.” He later said he was visiting Japan with his wife, who was having health issues. He urged the public to respect his personal life at the time.
He was criticised again last month for skipping part of a public hearing over TSA tests in order to celebrate Hong Kong’s 20th anniversary of the handover with a pro-Beijing business group.
Ng has said he will retire after his term ends in June. Asked if he has any plan after leaving office, Ng said Monday that he hopes to “rest up,” do exercise and read books.