Of equal importance to maintaining the rule of law in post-1997 Hong Kong is curbing corruption. Survey findings released in the past week by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) suggest there is mounting public concern over the potential for graft after the handover. Maintaining a sound work ethic is a challenge as well as test for the future chief executive, as many believe the ICAC should not be solely responsible for weeding out corruption. In this year's Policy Commitments, published by the Government the ICAC specifies its two major objectives: to enhance co-operation with Chinese authorities to combat cross-border corruption and to ensure there is no post-1997 resurgence of corrupt activities in the Government and private sector. There is a need to identify and eliminate opportunities for corruption in government departments and public bodies by reviewing their procedures and practices, it says. The support of senior civil servants is crucial to ensuring honesty prevails in the public sector. Signs have emerged of an increased number being lured by illicit gains. According to the ICAC, a record number have been recommended for disciplinary action so far this year, for engaging in offences lesser than corruption. Up to September, about 130 have been found guilty of such offences, compared to 111 in the corresponding period last year and the total for the year of 144. 'If an officer is not behaving properly, there is a danger of him becoming corrupt,' warned ICAC Commissioner Michael Leung Man-kin. The number of offenders may not be alarming to some, but there is no doubt about the common worry of a disintegration of work ethics before and after the handover. Of the 1,100 respondents to the survey, 70 per cent thought the 1997 issue would cause an increase in corruption. Many are probably expecting a surge in crime in the post-handover period as well, given their limited confidence about law enforcement under Chinese rule. Low pay rises coupled with a tightening economy, warn some, could cause more to run risks. The rise in cross-border crimes has already sounded alarms; reports have been made of unlawful collaborations between mainland and local law enforcement officers in offering protection for smuggling, drug trafficking and other vice activities. The number of cross-border corruption reports rose by 40 per cent in the first half of this year over the corresponding period last year. Mr Leung notes that local officers with interests in China are vulnerable to temptation and their premises could be used as fronts for criminal operations. In response, the ICAC pledges to step up co-operation with the Chinese procuratorate authorities, to achieve better mutual assistance in investigations. It could be helpful too, Mr Leung said, if a rule was imposed requiring disciplinary officers to disclose their interests in China. It was an idea rejected by the Civil Service Branch on the grounds of conflict with the Bill of Rights. The co-operation of mainland authorities is no doubt a key element in maintaining law and order and sound work practices in Hong Kong. But talks or exchange visits with the mainland representatives are simply not enough for ensuring the much-needed support from the other side of the border. Apart from the ICAC (74 per cent of the people polled believed its role would become more important as 1997 drew near), it will be equally commendable for the future administration to throw its weight behind efforts against corruption, according to Wong Hyo, president of the Chinese Civil Servants' Association. On the community level, extensive effort will be required to create a better understanding and concern for lawful social practices. Increased public education on the evils of corruption and what the law says is necessary and it is certainly desirable for the ICAC to engage in more joint activities with bodies such as the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education and youth groups. A worrying trend is that young people have become more tolerant of corruption. Chairman of the Youth Commission, legislator Eric Li Ka-cheung, is not surprised with the result, attributing it to the predominant influence of materialism in today's society. Mr Li's commission will be able to shed light on the values of local youth when it releases the results of a just-completed survey towards the end of the year. But even at this stage, Mr Li is adamant that moral education needs to be bolstered. 'It's quite clear that youngsters are drawn to material possessions,' he said. 'They may be influenced negatively by their relatives who curry favour with mainland business partners through gifts or special treats.' He agrees it is important for companies to provide yardsticks for their staff by laying down a code of practice for dealings with outside parties. By August this year, 76 per cent of the 300 trade and professional associations approached by the ICAC have formulated such a code for their members. Still, according to Mr Li, many small to medium-sized companies have yet to do so. 'Taking or giving out gifts is not against the law, but it could be a softening-up process, leading one to succumb to specific requests later,' he said. In an encouraging development, business ethics has been made part of the curricula of business and related faculties at all seven tertiary institutions since the last academic year. From this year, the same teachings will also be included in the curricula of professional faculties such as law, engineering and architecture, at the institutes. How students, apart from other members of the public, view corrupt behaviour will be of concern to Mr Li. 'We'll monitor the situation,' he said. And so should other government and private bodies.