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Hong Kong may be contravening an international treaty if political parties receive donations from “Big Tobacco,” a concern group warns

Hong Kong Standard – Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hong Kong may be contravening an international treaty if political parties receive donations from “Big Tobacco,” a concern group warns.

In a letter to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen, Clear the Air calls for a political party donation law amid reports that media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has given millions to democrats.

There are no laws in Hong Kong to make parties disclose donations and funding sources, but Clear the Air chairman James Middleton says in the letter that such legislation exists in the United States, Britain, Japan, Australia, Singapore and others.

Also drawing on overseas examples, Middleton says pro-business political parties are more likely to be backed by giants of the tobacco industry – though that point is not made in the letter.

The letter to Tsang says reports of a non-member funding the Democratic and the Civic parties highlight a need for “urgent legislation on mandatory and transparent publication of all political party donations in Hong Kong and prevention of funding of our political parties by overseas entities.”

Tobacco firms have backed parties elsewhere, it is pointed out, and if it happens here the SAR is in contravention of the World Health Organization Treaty Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

A provision states that governments who have signed the treaty should have “effective measures to prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to political parties, candidates or campaigns, or to require full disclosure of such contributions.”

The public should be able to see who may be influencing party policies and actions, goes the Clear the Air argument.

For it is always the case that there is no free lunch as “donors do not keep on donating to causes that do not benefit their own ends.”

Further, the letter states, “the public demands the right to know what their legislators are doing [and] whether their actions are contrary to electors’ interests and instead more beneficial to the Legco members and their donors only.”

Hong Kong-based anti-smoking advocate Judith Mackay said: “Hidden political donations strike at the heart of democracy itself.

“People seem so concerned about political influence in Hong Kong from north of the border, but [they] should be equally – if not more – concerned about the influence of vested commercial interests.

“If Hong Kong wants to proceed to democracy, then as a minimum first step it must be transparent about these influences.”

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