Crime fighter or carer, it comes down to compassion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am

Stephen Char Shik-ngor wears two different hats every day.

By day, the 55-year-old senior assignment officer with the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigates graft suspects. But at night he reaches out to help liver cancer patients wash and eat while counselling their devastated relatives.

But Mr Char reckons there is not much difference in the way he treats the two groups of people. 'I treat all my suspects with respect. I never label the criminals as 'bad guys', because everybody - including myself - makes mistakes. These people may have broken the law, but they could be a good father, a good husband or a good son,' he says. Because of that, many of people he has charged have become his friends and informants after they were released.

Mr Char this week announced he will quit his $1.2 million-a-year job at the ICAC and forego $500,000 in contract bonuses to set up the Hong Kong Livelihood and Health Services Concern Group. The group will push the Hospital Authority to provide better health services, with middle-class patients suffering chronic illnesses its main targets.

Media reports have attributed his decision to his personal experiences with liver cancer 10 years ago. He was told he only had a few months to live, but an operation miraculously returned him to health. But Mr Char says he was also motivated by his humble background, which taught him to respect and care for people regardless of their origins and social standing.

In 1949, his family fled from Jiangxi to Hong Kong. At the age of 13 he started working in a tailor shop as an apprentice to support his family of eight. It was here that he learned how to communicate with people of different backgrounds and nationalities.

'My boss said I should wear leather shoes in his shop,' he remembers. 'I went everywhere and finally managed to find a pair of second-hand shoes on Temple Street costing less than $10. I looked like Charlie Chaplin in them because they were too big.'

Mr Char gave $80 of the $100 he earned each month to his parents. He used the rest for English lessons.

His hardship gave him compassion for the needy and unfortunate. For nearly 10 years, Mr Char has volunteered to help cancer patients.

'I feel really sad to see that people are always apathetic about the pain and suffering of others,' he says.

'My concern group is aimed at building harmony in society. We want to establish a dialogue with the Hospital Authority and ensure that medical policies are founded on consensus.'