Information Paper for LegCo Panel on Public Service
Overseas Duty Visit Passage arrangementsIntroduction
for Director of Social Welfare
Members have recently expressed concern over the passage arrangements made by the Director of Social Welfare (DSW) for recent overseas duty visits. This paper sets out the circumstances under which the visits were made and the air passages arranged in connection with these visits.
2. DSW has undertaken six overseas duty visits since taking up his post in October 1997. At D6 of the Directorate Pay Scale, he is eligible for upgrading his duty passage from Business Class to First Class if flying time is more than 6 hours. This is in accordance with the provisions of Civil Service Regulation 1365 which was last reviewed in 1992 with reference to practices in other governments.
3. Following publicity over the travel arrangements for two of the visits, to Israel and Canada/New Zealand, DSW submitted a full account of the visits and the passage arrangements to the Civil Service Bureau. The main points are as follows.
Duty Trips to Canada and New Zealand
4. DSW attended the 15th Biennial World Volunteer Conference in Edmonton, Canada in late August 1998. He subsequently met with senior officials of the Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development Department and Family and Social Services Department. After taking some leave in Canada, he embarked on another duty visit to Auckland, New Zealand where he attended the 12th International Congress on Child Abuse & Neglect. He later met with senior officials of the Social Welfare Department in Wellington.
5. We have examined the routing and quotations of the Canadian and New Zealand trips and are satisfied that the passage arrangements were in order. The total cost of the route chosen, which was initially arranged under the former Air Passage Agreement (APA), was cheaper than the alternative which would have required him to return to Hong Kong after his Canadian visit before proceeding to his New Zealand visit.
Duty Trip to Israel
6. For the Hong Kong/Israel trip, DSW had been invited to represent Hong Kong at the 28th International Conference of the International Council on Social Welfare held in Jerusalem. There are only two direct flights per week between Hong Kong and Jerusalem. Given the starting date for the conference, DSW and three other officials from Hong Kong chose to go via European cities (which had daily flights to Jerusalem) in order to arrive in Jerusalem just before the conference.
7. The tickets for the flights Hong Kong/London and London/Jerusalem were booked under the former APA. This is in order, given that there was daily flight between London and Jerusalem, and that British Airways was one of the two carriers under the former APA.
8. DSW chose to take leave in London prior to flying on to Jerusalem. In doing so the argument for upgrading the Hong Kong - London sector of the passage was questionable, because the spirit of the six-hour rule is to provide better journey conditions for officers who are expected to commence duty upon arrival. In addition, as the London/Jerusalem flight took only 4? hours, upgrading was also not appropriate under the six-hour rule.
9. On the other hand, the return journey which consisted of the Jerusalem/London, London/Hong Kong segments was taken as a direct transit flight, with a total journey time exceeding six hours. Upgrading the passage to First Class was acceptable.
10. Having considered the spirit of the rules, DSW volunteered to refund to Government an amount of $15,459, being the cost difference between First and Business Class passages for the Hong Kong/London/Jerusalem trip. Having looked into the circumstances and the fact that the relevant Civil Service Regulations had not specified under what circumstances upgrading would not be appropriate, CSB has accepted DSW's explanation that the booking was made in good faith and there was no deliberate intent to exceed his entitlement. We have also accepted DSW's refund offer.
Conclusion and Way Forward
11. We accept that the Civil Service Regulations governing the upgrading of duty passages are not sufficiently clear and have issued guidelines to departments to clarify the upgrading requirements. We do not consider that there are sufficient grounds for disciplinary action to be taken against any officer.
12. Separately, we are conducting an overall review of the system to see if updating is necessary in the present day circumstances.
Civil Service Bureau
7 December 1998