ICAC reputation pays price for Timothy Tong's spending
Allegations of excessive spending against former boss of anti-corruption agency brings into question just who is checking the checkers
It is a case that is raising the prospect of bringing in tougher anti-corruption safeguards for Hong Kong's anti-corruption agency.
Timothy Tong Hin-ming, former head of the powerful Independent Commission Against Corruption, has found himself engulfed in a wave of allegations over extravagance and collusion.
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang has drawn her own conclusions from the official figures revealing the lavish spending. "The position of ICAC commissioner demands someone who has integrity. Tong was obviously not the right person."
New People's Party chair Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a lawmaker and executive councillor who worked with Tong while they were at the Security Bureau about a decade ago, disagreed.
"On the face of it, he was a suitable candidate. He had operational experience and he had investigative experience," Ip said. She said she never saw him behave inappropriately.
Tong broke his silence last Friday, issuing a brief statement saying he had sought legal advice and would co-operate with investigations.
Trouble began for Tong when the Audit Commission released a report last month showing two ICAC dinners in 2011 exceeded the permitted budget. It was later reported he spent over HK$154,000 on gifts for mainland officials.
This year, Tong was appointed to China's top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced last week that a four-member committee, reporting directly to him, will review regulations governing entertainment expenses at the ICAC. It is the first time an outside panel has been set up to look at the anti-graft agency.
The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee will also hold a hearing this month that will focus on the ICAC's general policies on entertainment and expenses. And this week, Legco also endorsed a petition by lawmakers Cyd Ho Sau-lan of the Labour Party and Dennis Kwok Wing-hang of the Civic Party to set up a select committee to look into the allegations.
Chow Chung-kong, the head of the four-strong committee which will hold its first meeting next week, said he was confident that the work of the three committees would not overlap.
"Our duties are very clear," Chow said. "We will review the ICAC's system and regulatory procedures for handling expenses on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits, and see if there were any violations of rules before giving our advice."
"We will just do our own work and co-operate." He did not say whether Tong would be invited to give evidence.
Tong, 63, joined the government in 1972. He became the deputy secretary for security from 1999 to 2003, then customs and excise commissioner, before becoming the ICAC head in 2007.
On the surface, the anti-graft agency is structured to prevent abuse. It is directly accountable to the chief executive. The commissioner reports to the Executive Council on major policy issues and is also required to answer to the legislature on policy and funding matters. There are four advisory committees to oversee the work of the ICAC.
Then there is the L Group - an internal monitoring unit that investigates allegations of corruption and related offences made against ICAC staff members.
However, there may be a loophole when it comes to everyday matters. Ip said: "As the ICAC head, we expect him to be a man of integrity. We can't expect the chief executive to vet his daily entertainment expenses."