Hong Kong anti-graft commissioner defends its independence following weeks of top-level staffing turmoil

Simon Peh seeks to reassure public after departure of first female director of operations and subsequent personnel shocks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 11:22pm

Hong Kong’s most senior anti-graft official has rejected claims that turmoil at the top of the agency he heads is a signal that its independence and ability to withstand interference are under threat.

In his first extensive response after weeks of internal discord, Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu on Tuesday night moved to reassure the public that the fight against graft was safe in the organisation’s hands and its independence remained intact.

The top-level intervention follows weeks of turmoil in the agency’s powerful investigative arm, the Operations Department.

A period of unprecedented strife began last month with the departure of the ICAC’s first female head of operations, Rebecca Li Bo-lan, amid unconfirmed allegations over soft-peddling on a probe into Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and bitter personality clashes in the organisation.

Li’s departure was followed by a staffing reshuffle which bordered on the farcical and hit morale within the internationally respected agency.

In a statement which coincided with the release of the 2016 World Competitiveness Yearbook by the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development, which ranked Hong Kong higher than in previous years in its work in fighting bribery, Peh issued a robust defence of the commission and its values.

He said the result showed that the city’s efforts in integrity building were highly recognised internationally.

Peh said despite rumours and speculation about recent movements at the top of the ICAC, the commission remained as committed as ever to fighting corruption and safeguarding Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the cleanest cities in the world.

“Enshrined in the Basic Law, the independent status of the ICAC has been one of the cornerstones that defines Hong Kong as what it is today. Members of the public can rest assured that the Commission will continue to perform its anti-corruption duties without interference, fear or favour,” he said.

“I have every confidence that the new Senior Management of the Operations Department as well as our seasoned leaders of the Community Relations Department and the Corruption Prevention Department will be able to leverage synergies from their respective expertise, further demonstrating the effectiveness of Hong Kong’s time-tested three-pronged strategy to fight corruption,” Peh added.

Ricky Yau Shu-chun, acting head of operations, said that his 1,000-strong department would rise to future challenges with unwavering determination.

“We will pursue every single corruption complaint in a fair and impartial manner as we did in the past 42 years, and will continue to enhance our capabilities and professionalism in serving the people of Hong Kong,” Yau said.

Among those who left in the wake of Li’s departure was the commission’s chief forensic accountant, Melissa Tang Shuk-nei.

At the height of the trouble, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang expressed concern, describing the changes as “unusual”.