GOVERNMENT corruption is not widespread and the ICAC is in control of the problem, the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Barrie Wiggham, insisted yesterday in the wake of raids on a cross-border smuggling ring.
''There are always bad apples . . . but I don't see it as a big problem in the civil service,'' said Mr Wiggham, who also serves on the ICAC's main policy panel, the Advisory Committee on Corruption (ACOC).
''The ICAC is on top of this, both in terms of education and prevention,'' he said.
But Professor Felice Lieh-mak, an Executive Councillor who was recently named chairman of the ACOC, said the suspected border corruption revealed this week could be a sign of things to come as 1997 neared.
''It's symbolic of the things we're worried about; running up to 1997 there will be more corruption,'' said Professor Lieh-mak.
''We haven't wiped out corruption in Hongkong. We have suppressed it and made people more aware of it . . . but it's very tempting and with opportunities there, and if the environment is right, we'll see an upsurge.'' She said the high value of the stolen cars and electrical goods seized in this week's crackdown demonstrated the lure posed by corruption.
Professor Lieh-mak, who will chair an ACOC meeting for the first time next month, said the panel would look carefully at what could be done to improve the ICAC's efficiency on both the operational side and the legislative side.
She pointed to some unsuccessful prosecutions of suspects charged by the ICAC.
''In large cases, we seem to be losing,'' she said.
She also said that a trend towards increased government regulation in Hongkong could breed increased corruption.
''There is a dark side to that if you put more power into people's (officials') hands,'' she said.
Professor Lieh-mak earlier has pointed to the need to name a new commissioner of the ICAC to replace Mr Peter Allan, who collapsed and died during an ICAC fun run.
She said yesterday that a new commissioner, who is likely to be an expatriate, would be named ''probably in early March''.
Meanwhile, low morale and job dissatisfaction were said to be contributory factors to customs officers taking risks and participating in corrupt activities.
Customs and excise staff conceded they were unhappy with the present situation, saying their workload had increased drastically without extra resources.
But the Disciplined Services Consultative Council said the arrest of nine customs officers was an isolated incident and it believed the majority of disciplinary officers were law-abiding.
The staff side chairman of the council, Mr Lee Chong-chee, expressed disappointment and said he hoped there would be no further incidents.
But the council was concerned by the indication that there was an increasing trend of civil servants being involved in corruption, he said.
The council would look into the issue at its next meeting.