ICAC must now regain public's trust after Timothy Tong saga

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 3:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 4:55pm

It has long been a foregone conclusion that Timothy Tong Hin-ming would be condemned for his misbehaviour when he led the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Yet no words are strong enough in light of the severe damage he has done to one of Hong Kong's pillars of success. His lavish wining and dining, luxurious gifts and questionable overseas trips - all paid by taxpayers without challenge for years - has undermined the watchdog's hard-earned reputation as one of the world's finest anti-graft agencies. The censure from Legco's Public Accounts Committee yesterday was a warning that the public takes government wrongdoings seriously.

The harsh words used to condemn Tong and the watchdog's community relations department - "deplore", "grave dismay", "inexcusable" - reflected the severity of the case and delivered a clear message that Tong and the department failed to adhere to the highest standards that were expected of them. Regrettably, Tong appears to be unrepentant. He challenged the committee to clarify what rules had been breached.

This is the second damning report, after a government-appointed probe found that rules had been breached on 42 occasions during Tong's five-year term. But the saga is far from over, as lawmakers are still pushing for another probe. Separately, a criminal investigation is ongoing. It is imperative for the government to pursue its responsibilities.

Equally important is future compliance. It is good that a plethora of recommendations have been made. But this is meaningless if those in charge of enforcement put themselves above the rules. The graft-buster and other public agencies should learn a lesson and strictly adhere to the rules.

It should be noted that the ICAC has done a great job over the past four decades. This was rightly recognised in the Legco report. The strong public reaction shows the community has high expectations of its performance. Only through restoring public confidence can the anti-corruption watchdog continue to do the job with public support.