• Wed
  • Jul 30, 2014
  • Updated: 12:32pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 11:38am

Sad days for the graft-buster in many more ways than one

The consequences of ex-ICAC chief's alleged spending from public coffers are far-reaching

BIO

Mike Rowse has lived in Hong Kong since 1972, and is a naturalised Chinese citizen. He spent 6 years in the ICAC from 1974 – 1980, then 28 years in the Government as an Administrative Officer until retirement in December 2008. He is now the Search Director for Stanton Chase International, and also hosts a radio talk show and writes regularly for both English and Chinese media.
 

I wonder whether the former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming realises just how much damage he has done to the anti-graft body he was appointed to defend and protect.

No doubt he is beginning to understand the danger to himself. After all, he is now the subject of a criminal investigation by his former colleagues, some of whom are undoubtedly angry at the way their own image has been tarnished by association.

But judging from the mindset that led him to behave as he did, it is possible he does not fully grasp the consequences for the Independent Commission Against Corruption itself.

From the facts made public so far, from the audit report and from replies to media enquiries, Tong entertained mainland officials lavishly on a number of occasions and gave some of them expensive gifts.

The justification for the frequency and the identity of the guests has been challenged. And the fact these favours were paid for from public funds has caused considerable outrage.

But that is not the main point. If, as some have speculated, the favours were granted to secure a future benefit for the individual concerned, then the funding source is at most an aggravating factor in the matter.

Even if he had paid for the meals and gifts from his own pocket, he could be said to have sailed very close to actual corruption. At the very least, he must be given a chance to respond to these allegations.

One of Hong Kong people's deepest fears in the run-up to the handover in 1997 and since then is that our city would be dragged back into the dark days of corruption by closer interaction with the mainland. We put this nightmare behind us in the 1970s and we certainly do not want it back.

I do not think it ever occurred to anyone that the ICAC - which we saw as our first line of defence against corruption - could turn out to be the weak link. So the first consequence of this saga is a loss of public confidence in the integrity of the commission.

There are other losses less readily visible. Disciplined services and those who work in them are a special breed. Our firemen run into burning buildings while everyone else tries to get out of them. A young police constable walking the beat at night would go down a dark alley if he hears a cry for help while ordinary citizens might turn away or pretend not to hear it.

Our ICAC officers are of a similar ilk and set themselves very high standards. From the earliest days, they have been subject to a degree of social ostracism. To generate and maintain this courage, this internal fortitude, the organisations concerned need to build up staff morale.

Working closely together in tough circumstances binds the people together. Like the three musketeers, it is a case of "all for one and one for all".

Suddenly finding out that your leader has feet of clay has a devastating impact.

The fact that harmony has been disturbed is evidenced by the other tales emerging about the Tong era. Allegedly turning up late for work, using office facilities to prepare Chinese herbs, bringing a girlfriend and a golfing buddy to official events - all this tittle tattle might not amount to much except for its source: it must have come from within the ICAC, so the solidarity is broken.

And how is all this going to look to the new administration in Beijing with its emphasis on fighting corruption and frugality in official entertainment?

Finally, the revelations have put our Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on the spot. Tong was appointed by his predecessor of course, so that responsibility cannot be laid at Leung's door. But what comes next? Surely the best thing now would be to bring maximum sunlight to bear on the situation.

Unless the ICAC investigation turns up evidence to justify prosecution - in which case, Tong must be presumed innocent pending the outcome of the trial - then there must be some kind of enquiry held in public. That is the only way to restore public confidence in the ICAC, restore harmony within it, and provide an opportunity for the former commissioner to explain his side of the story.

If we act now wisely and fairly, and are seen to do so, then maybe some good can come even from this situation. But up to now, it's a pretty sad day.

Mike Rowse is search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University

Share

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

6

This article is now closed to comments

blue
pflim040 why must you post on 3 different names and have a conversation with yourself? It's really disingenuous.
the sun also rises
it is okay for pflim040 to use different pen-names to write here.Right ? Please don't bother with his pen-names and just write your opinions here on the given topic/news above.Okay ?
the sun also rises
of course, Tong will be presumed innocent at least there are evidence turns up to justily prosecution after the investigations carried out by our ICAC which fame is grealty tarnished after this Over-spending scandal ! So there must be some kind of enquiry by the public---the best one is to be carried out by our trusted Legco pan-democrats who are keen to do it ! Right ?
the sun also rises
Yeah,it is a pretty sad day to most Hongkongers who support a clean (uncorrupted) society, not just the cleanliness in environment which is far from the standard of Japan ( so-called Tiny Japan).If the corrupted Tong Hin-ming can not or will not be summoned to answer questions by the committee just set up by the Leung administration,how can our confidence in the graft-buster be rebuilt ? I wonder.But right now, there is no sign that this coward,Timothy Tong will appear to testify for his innocence or suspected bribery or corruption accused against him ! Tong was photoed by a reporter of Apple Daily( not Beijing-friendly) on a MTR train going to Cheung Kwun O ---maybe his residence or his girlfriend's.He looked depressed and upset but whether he would emerge to defend himself and his reputation and the ICAC's is another question ! Right ?
the sun also rises
Mike Rowse has performed marvellously by writing here in his column at SCMP after he left the SAR administration of which he was accused of the poor results of the Victoria Harbour Fiesta Show that our government had put in hundreds of millions ! His superiors,the financial secretary and the chief secretary were not to blame for the failure of that show.Really unfair to Mike Rowse who can see through social issues so thoroughly and anaylse so clear-mindedly. Well done,Mike ! please continue your efforts in contributing more and often to this column in this pretigious newspaper in town ! Thanks a lot !
John Adams
I agree with you Mike. This is far more serious than it appears
 
 
 
 
 

Login

SCMP.com Account

or