Any ICAC officer who fails to strictly comply with civil service rules should face investigation, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday, amid a meals and gifts scandal engulfing the anti-graft agency.
Apparently targeting former commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming for the first time, Lam said that while the Independent Commission Against Corruption was independent of the government, its officers were bound by the rules on civil servants, which included the giving of gifts.
"If some individuals have done something contrary to these rules, there should be investigations into them," she said without naming anyone.
Lam also said the ICAC's system of regulating the giving of gifts by its officials may need to be reviewed. "Every system has room for improvement as public demands and social conditions change … every system has to be reviewed after a time," she said.
Tong spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public purse on gifts and lavish meals for mainland officials when he headed the ICAC from 2007 to 2012.
The convenor of the Executive Council, Lam Woon-kwong, said it was vital that ICAC commissioners set a good example, and he called on Tong - who has so far remained silent - to explain.
"The ICAC is the organisation that bears the cornerstone of Hong Kong's core value," Lam said. "The commissioner is not just the head of any organisation. [He] has a duty to uphold Hong Kong's corruption-free image."
Pressure also mounted on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to speak out. The chief executive appeared at a cleaning event at a wet market in Shek Tong Tsui yesterday, but repeatedly refused to comment on the ICAC matter.
The Legislative Council's public accounts committee will hold a hearing next month with a focus on general policies and spending, while the ICAC is expected to launch its own inquiry.
On RTHK's City Forum, barrister Stephen Char Shik-ngor, a former ICAC chief investigator, said: "I agree with [lawmaker] James To Kun-sun's view that Leung Chun-ying should immediately intervene. This is a responsibility that he cannot shirk.
"The Legislative Council should also invoke its special powers to investigate it as it would be difficult to find out the truth by only calling Mr Tong [to the legislature]. It would be unavoidable to require the testimony of ICAC colleagues by summoning them to testify [in Legco]. Otherwise, the truth would not surface."
Lawmaker Ip Kwok-him urged Tong to "respond as soon as possible so that people can know the facts".
But Ip, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, stressed that it was not yet appropriate for Legco to invoke its special powers to question Tong.
Tong was appointed a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference after stepping down as ICAC commissioner last year.