The ICAC is an institutional pillar of Hong Kong. Its independence and freedom from political interference is the source of its success and credibility within the community. That is why it must not be used as a political tool and must be shielded from manipulation.
But the former No 2 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption has recently warned that some groups and people have deliberately publicised complaints they have filed to inflict political and personal damage on opponents. Tony Kwok Man-wai characterises some of these complaints as lacking substance. His warning, if true, is serious. But it is also impossible to prove, as a case's seriousness is often in the eye of the beholder until it has been looked into by investigators.
The ICAC has a long tradition of encouraging people to file complaints because, traditionally, victims and witnesses were reluctant to come forward. Times have changed but the low evidential threshold with which the anti-graft agency opens a file following a complaint remains. Kwok said agents often pursued cases even if evidence was weak, and in many cases the opening of an investigation was a legal requirement and largely procedural.
Not all investigations, therefore, are equal. Separate investigations into corruption allegations are under way into Chief Executive Leung Chin-ying, his predecessor Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Henry Tang Ying-yen, who ran against Leung in last year's race for the top job. Pan-democratic groups and their media allies have made much of these probes, some of which are more serious than others.
Then there are the sensational cases. Former government No 2 Rafael Hui Si-yan will appear in the city's biggest corruption trial later this year alongside billionaire property tycoon brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen - the bosses of Sun Hung Kai Properties. And former development minister Mak Chai-kwong and assistant highways director Tsang King-man await trial for allegedly leasing each other's flats in the 1980s to cheat on the government's housing allowances.
The ICAC needs to speedily screen out frivolous complaints. Politicians and news media need to be more responsible. It's dishonest to sensationalise cases simply because a file has been opened and pretend it's a serious investigation. But in the end, the public is not so easily fooled.