Extravagance has no place at the ICAC or any government department

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 2:45am

The controversy surrounding former anti-corruption chief Timothy Tong Hing-ming had all the ingredients for a political storm from the outset - lavish wining and dining, luxurious gifts and questionable overseas trips - all paid by taxpayers without being questioned for years. A government-appointed review panel has just confirmed that the problems were more serious than previously reported. It is imperative for the government to pursue responsibilities and restore public confidence in the anti-graft agency.

Credit goes to the panellists for completing the most comprehensive probe within a tight schedule. It is shocking to learn that the man fighting bribery and corruption had little regard for rules laid down by the Independent Commission Against Corruption itself. Of the 206 meals hosted by Tong and charged under official entertainment, more than one-third exceeded the spending cap. He also appeared to be particularly generous in proffering gifts and treating guests to fine dining and hard liquor. The panel also challenged some of his duty visits, on which there was more sightseeing than official business. Altogether, there were breaches on 42 occasions during his five-year term. While overseas trips, entertainment and souvenir exchanges are part of official business, something is clearly amiss when the bills add up to millions of dollars.

Public officers, in particular law enforcers, are required to adhere to the highest standard of conduct. As the chief graft-buster, Tong has clearly failed the public. Two breaches are now the subject of criminal inquiry. The public expects nothing short of a fair and just outcome. Other officials who have breached rules should also be punished accordingly.

The damning report came amid growing concerns over the commission's anti-corruption efforts and impartiality in law enforcement. It would be worrying if public confidence is undermined as a result. Thankfully, the panel observed that many ICAC officers are indeed conscientious of their mission and have conducted themselves with discipline.

Our public service has a well-deserved reputation for being clean and rules-bound. Lavish banquets and luxurious gifts have no place in our officialdom. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged that his administration will adhere to the principle of frugality when conducting official business. The saga is a good warning to the ICAC and government departments that the public will take all misspending seriously.