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HK Chief Executive in Hot Water Over $6,900 Hotel Stay

Bernie Lo|Anchor, CNBC Asia Pacific
Thursday, 26 Apr 2012 | 3:56 AM ET

He's got two months in office before retiring, but Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, the head of the territory's government, is stuck in controversy again over charges of living it up on taxpayers' money.

Prince Philippe of Belgium and Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang pose for a photo at Laeken Castle on September 8, 2011 in Brussels, Belgium.
Getty Images
Prince Philippe of Belgium and Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang pose for a photo at Laeken Castle on September 8, 2011 in Brussels, Belgium.

The local press has been plastered with reports of Tsang's $6,900 one night stay at the Presidential Suite in a hotel in Brasilia, Brazil during an official visit in early April. His office says the suite was required for "working needs", in order to host guests and for internal meetings. While the Chief Executive himself is not bound by rules on accommodation expenses, the tab exceeded the daily expense rate cap of "senior civil servants" by 23 fold.

Blame the Chief Executive for lack of discretion, if not for outright breaking rules. After all, he is already being probed for accepting private jet and yacht excursions inappropriately from tycoons, and is facing an impeachment attempt by Democrats in the Legislature. With that kind of baggage in tow, shouldn't Tsang have gone more low key?

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan told local media, "Tsang has been a civil servant for many years, does he not know that they have to be careful?"

Fellow lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung told the same paper, "taxpayer money was wasted...would Donald Tsang please stop dreaming of being the president?"

Maybe Tsang has Air Force and Marine One envy. After all, President Obama travels classier than first class, in his own Boeing 747 and Chinook helicopter. But then, that's America, and Mr. Obama was elected. This is Hong Kong, and Mr. Tsang was not.

Isolated transit for government folks has often been a sore point here. While most of us regularly use buses, minibuses and the subway, cabinet members are whisked around by chauffeur in very expensive Volkswagen Phaetons, that's after their previous modes of moving around, BMW 7-series limos apparently got too dingy. Occasionally, especially during election time, political types will create a media photo opp by taking a token ride on the subway to show how connected they are with the people, often to ridicule in the press.

It's kind of sad how this current controversy is about getting around and hotel stays. Donald Tsang is a career civil servant who has dedicated his entire working life to Hong Kong. He's done some very important work. He was our Financial Secretary during the Asian Financial Crisis, and successfully beat speculators who were trying to drive the Hong Kong dollar and stock market into the dungeon. I hope he isn't remembered just for seeking some extra legroom and and an extra soft duvet.

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