Government urged to boost junior ICAC salaries to police levels

Paying junior investigators less than lowest ranks of force could make it harder to recruit top-quality staff, senior anti-graft official warns

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 5:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 5:30am

Junior graft-busters must be paid at least as much as new police recruits or the ICAC may struggle to recruit the talent it needs to fight corruption, one of the agency's top directors says.

An assistant investigator with the Independent Commission Against Corruption earns as little as HK$17,735 a month, while the lowest pay grade for a police constable in HK$19,545.

"It's very unfair," Raymond So Wing-keung, ICAC assistant director for operations, told the Sunday Morning Post. "I want to have more support from the government [so] we can have our salary scale for our junior officers moved up a bit."

In recent years, the salary gap between new police and ICAC recruits has worsened, with ICAC staff losing out, So said. "So we may have difficulties in recruiting very, very good officers."

The ICAC's budget for the financial year ending this month was HK$927.3 million. It has about 1,200 staff, more than half of whom have served for more than 10 years.

So said the ICAC was given a set budget by the government every year, with the salary levels fixed, so "it is not flexible".

Salaries for both bodies, as well as the fire service, customs and correctional services are set by the government's standing committee on disciplined services salaries and based in part on an annual survey of private- sector wages.

"I was the staff representative before. I fought this [issue] with the salary commission and I failed," So said.

When So joined the fledgling graft-buster out of university in 1976, two years after its foundation, the ICAC paid staff a special allowance of HK$700 per year on top of the starting monthly salary of HK$2,010, a sum that "attracted the talented people to join".

New recruits are no longer given the bonus, and for long-serving staff the extra payment remains at HK$700.

But So says the problem will not muzzle the watchdog: "The quality of our work will not drop even though the quality of the officers who join may not be that good, which means everyone will have to work even harder."

When the ICAC was first established in 1974, an assistant investigator in the operations department - the most junior position - would start on the equivalent pay to a police sergeant and station sergeant. Now, the maximum an assistant investigator can earn is HK$31,650 a month. A police constable can earn up to HK$31,265.

"Even if we don't have uniforms, after we train our investigators, they are doing what the police are doing as CID [Criminal Investigation Department] work," So said.

Peter Choi Shuen-hung, the head of the ICAC's staff association, declined to comment on the pay scale. It is understood that negotiations may be under way concerning the starting salaries of junior officers, but this could not be confirmed.

A Civil Service Bureau spokeswoman said it was wrong to compare ICAC and police pay.

"It is inappropriate to … jump to the conclusion that it is the starting salaries of ICAC officers that make it hard for the ICAC to attract and retain talent."

She said "the attractiveness of a particular job is affected by various factors".

In 2008, the committee on disciplined services pay recommended that ICAC officers get an increase, which led to a salary rise in 2009. In 2012, another review advised that starting salaries of all disciplined services' grades, including the ICAC, should remain unchanged.