The ICAC must clear the air over removal of senior investigator
Claims and counter-claims of political interference have done nothing for public confidence
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is one of the most secretive institutions in Hong Kong. The community accepts the need for secrecy if the ICAC is to uphold the rule of law and safeguard the city’s reputation for clean government and a level playing field. Any internal feuds and politicking also tend to be kept in house. So there was consternation when a row over a change at the top spilled into the public arena. It started with a leak to this newspaper about the removal of the graft-buster’s senior investigator. The three-decade career of Rebecca Li Bo-lan came to an abrupt end after nearly a year acting as both deputy commissioner and head of operations. Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu confirmed the decision in a statement that paid tribute to her service but offered no explanation. Within days Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s office denied allegations that he was behind Li’s removal and Peh come out again to take full responsibility. Peh cited failure to meet the job requirements for terminating Li’s acting capacity.
Leung was responding to accusations by pan-democrat lawmakers he had interfered because he was subject to a probe into whether he had declared to the Executive Council payments from an Australian firm under a no-compete arrangement. Lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan claimed investigators had tried in vain to obtain evidence of a declaration from the Executive Council secretariat. Leung has also faced a grilling in Legco, another senior ICAC investigator has resigned and the agency postponed its annual staff dinner after cancellations.
None of this does anything for public confidence. The head of operations is, after all, one of the ICAC’s three pillars, along with the commissioner and the operations review committee chair. As the only investigatory pillar, the position is important to the perception of independence. For the sake of the ICAC’s credibility we trust the matter will not be further politicised with hasty conclusions. But the public expects the ICAC to clear the air by providing as much detail as allowed by its operating rules.