The spending watchdog said immigration officials had breached a government requirement for them to stay silent on audit reports, so as not to affect future scrutiny on various matters by Legco’s Public Accounts Committee.
The warning comes after the Immigration Department rounded on the auditor for suggesting that improvements could be possible in work to investigate suspected bogus marriages.
“People who don’t know anything about criminal investigations are making random criticisms against law-enforcement agencies,” the Immigration Department lamented in a public statement.
In response to the outburst, the Audit Commission said it complies with government requirements, and therefore does not comment in public on matters relating to its reports.
Its statement also included the details of a government circular, to show where the Immigration Department had gone wrong.
“During the period between the tabling of the report in Legislative Council and the public hearings, it has been agreed between the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the administration that any public debate on the issues to be further investigated should be avoided by both sides as far as possible,” Financial Circular No. 2/2020 states.
“This will ensure that the PAC can carry out public hearings smoothly and in a fair manner. To this end, heads of the bureaux, departments and/or public organisations involved and their staff should refrain from initiating any publicity to counter the audit findings.”
It’s highly unusual for government departments to publicly turn against one another, although since the unrest of 2019, both the Immigration Department and the police have taken aim at RTHK, accusing the government station of putting out “fake news”.