Corruption 'the real cause of botched rescue'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am


Corruption was a key reason behind the bungled rescue of tourists held hostage by a lone gunman in Manila last year, former senior Hong Kong graft-buster Tony Kwok says.

The rescue fiasco was 'a typical example. I think this tragedy is due to corruption,' said Kwok, former deputy commissioner with the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

'Due to corruption, the police are not well-equipped. Why are the police not well-equipped? Because the money supposed to be spent equipping the police and for the right training of the police is going elsewhere,' he told the South China Morning Post.

On August 23 last year after the failure of day-long hostage negotiations, the Manila police department's Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) mounted a rescue. They spent an hour trying to crack open a glass window at the back of the tourist bus with a sledgehammer.

The policemen also had no ladder and were caught on camera jumping up and down trying to peer inside a broken window.

A police official conceded in a separate interview that the rescue team lacked the most basic equipment, such as battering rams and ladders. These had now been provided to them, he said.

Despite such a slip-up occurring two months after President Benigno Aquino assumed office, Kwok, who is now an anti-corruption consultant for the European Commission, indicated that Aquino was off to a good start in fighting state corruption.

He noted that Philippine private pollster Social Weather Stations compared how Filipinos viewed the political will of four presidents to fight graft. He said that compared to the three previous presidents, including Aquino's own mother, Corazon, 'we have the new president whose rating is unprecedentedly high, so this is a good opportunity'.

Kwok also indicated that personally, he had ignored the black travel alert imposed by the Hong Kong government warning residents not to take trips to the Philippines.

'I have no problem with security at all,' Kwok said, and called the hostage-taking 'one isolated incident'.

'I don't think the Philippines has a real crime problem compared with many other Southeast Asian countries.'

He said the best way for the Philippine government to mend fences with Hong Kong was 'to regain the confidence of tourists. As for me, there's no problem. I drive here all the time. It's very safe.'

Kwok was in Manila to attend the inaugural Integrity Summit, at which nearly 700 local corporations signed a pledge to follow a no-bribe policy and code of conduct.

Kwok advised the top businessmen present: 'Don't ask why the government failed in fighting corruption. You should ask what failed, because it takes two to tango.'

He held up Hong Kong's drive against corruption under his watch as a successful model to follow. He explained the four pillars underlying it: prevention, education, deterrence and political will.

Kwok recalled that before the ICAC was formed, 'we were one of the four most corrupt places on earth and corruption was open and organised'. At that time, 'the Philippines was far, far advanced ... but now there's a difference'.