Jake's View

Case for downsizing at ICAC as job gets smaller

If fight against corruption has been won, or alternatively the agency fails to fulfil its role effectively, there is no need for such a big organisation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 5:49am

How the ICAC cleaned up

SCMP headline,
February 24


I think if we ran a count of whose photo has appeared most often in this newspaper over the past month, it would have to be that of Peter Godber, a corrupt police officer who was on the take more than 40 years ago.

Godber had aroused resentment during the 1967 riots for the assertiveness of his enforcement methods, and there was widespread anger in the community when he ran from town six years later to escape bribery charges.

He was subsequently brought back from England and jailed.

This led to the formation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and whenever the commission has since felt the urge to blow its own trumpet, which it does frequently, we have the Godber story and photos pulled out of the closet again.

It is now the ICAC's 40th anniversary and we're getting the full incantation - Godber, Godber, Godber.

To give it all a touch of silliness, we ran a photo the other day of a child holding two service revolvers at ICAC Open Day. Picture it now - an armed anti-corruption Swat squad in a raid on a gang of holed-up bribe takers. Tell us, fellas, please do, when it ever happened.

What has the ICAC done since Godber?

Well, there was that little matter just last year of the alcohol bills run up by the commissioner. Then there was the embarrassment a few years ago of some ICAC officers caught coaching a witness. Let's also not forget the case of the investigator who lost it in public when sacked for being too close to underworld figures he was supposedly investigating.

These people sometimes have a talent for landing themselves in the soup instead of the crooks they are meant to chase.

Occasionally they also push their beloved public relations efforts a little too far. I think the police have a point when they complain of much-ballyhooed ICAC arrests of policemen who are then released with nothing more said. The commission would do well to keep that particular tar brush permanently locked in its closet.

But as to what they have done recently, I think our headline summed it up nicely - "cleaned up". That's in the past tense, you will notice.

The ICAC's own figures confirm it. The number of corruption reports received is down and the latest annual survey shows more than 98 per cent of respondents have encountered no instances of corruption over the past 12 months while 25 per cent think corruption is very common or quite common. That leaves you with at least 23 of those 25 who take the common existence of corruption purely on faith and have no personal evidence for it.

The fact is that good pay and perks in the public sector have achieved their objective of deterring public officials from corrupt practices and the ICAC has had to shift its focus to the private sector instead, which was never the intention.

I admit I am not entirely sure that corruption has been so thoroughly vanquished. The greater prevalence of mainland-related business in Hong Kong these days and the ease with which payments can now be made and enjoyed offshore well away from official eyes makes one wonder.

But the ICAC cannot have it two ways. Either the fight against corruption has been won, in which case there is no longer any need for an anti-corruption agency quite so large, or it is no longer able to fight corruption effectively, in which case it is also best trimmed.

They have a big one on at the moment in the case involving Rafael Hui Si-yan and the Kwok brothers but this is sub judice, and discussion of its merits best left to the courts until a verdict is reached.

Otherwise, I have to say I'm not particularly impressed with the scalp count of recent years. I cannot quite call it much ado about nothing but the phrase does come to mind.

What we have here is an obvious candidate for budget cutting. The ICAC had a job to do years ago and it did that job. It now wants to make us think that the job is still as big as it was 40 years ago.

It is not.