Hong Kong's graft watchdog needs to set good example

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 2:27am

Credibility and integrity are the foremost qualities we expect of our law enforcers. Anything short of the highest standards can undermine confidence in their work. For those charged with fighting bribery, expectations are even higher. Regrettably, the former chief of the Independent Commission Against Corruption has let down the public with questionable spending and practices. The stakes are high given the commission's role as a graft buster. It is imperative to find out the scale of the problem and prevent a reoccurrence.

There is no evidence to suggest law enforcement has been compromised. But it is disturbing to learn that Timothy Tong Hin-ming was particularly generous to mainland officials during his five-year tenure. More than two-thirds of the HK$220,000 he spent on gifts went across the border. The head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, intriguingly, received the most gifts in different capacities, with the total value exceeding HK$8,000. Tong also exercised discretion to raise the spending cap when hosting dinners for visiting mainland officials at luxury hotels. This is in addition to similar problems unearthed by the Audit Commission. He also reportedly hosted numerous dinners for officials from the liaison office.

Restrictions on acceptance of gifts and entertainment are needed to ensure official duties will not be compromised by undue hospitality and illicit advantages. Tong's gifts and wining and dining of Chinese officials sit oddly with his anti-bribery portfolio. Questions have been raised as he was subsequently rewarded with a seat on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Little wonder that lawmakers are pursuing the case further, fearing the problems revealed by the auditors and the media are only the tip of an iceberg.

The excess reminds people of the extravagant official banquets that President Xi Jinping has cracked down on recently on the mainland. That a graft-fighting official here appears to have done the contrary is ironic. What is left to set Hong Kong apart if the watchdog fighting corruption is not seen as setting a good example?

Our clean government and fair business environment owe much to the efforts of a strong and credible anti-graft agency. For almost four decades, the commission has successfully established itself as an institution to be proud of. But it can hardly win support and confidence in its work unless it first puts its house in order.