PUBLIC concern about a major corruption surge in the run-up to 1997 could turn out to be well-founded, the head of the ICAC warned yesterday as he revealed a five-year peak in claims of police corruption in Hongkong. Commissioner Mr Bertrand de Speville said opinion polls carried out on behalf of the ICAC had revealed major concern within the community. ''There are fears of corruption growing . . . there is a sizeable minority, I think 37 per cent, that feel between now and 1997 there would be a marked increase in corruption,'' he said. ''I hope they are not right but the public usually is right and if they do prove to be, then we are ready to take on this upsurge of corruption. ''It would be foolish of myself and the commission as a whole to discount that public fear.'' Mr de Speville said the ICAC was confident of handling any increase in cases. Although reported corruption within the police force has risen 42 per cent in the first quarter of 1993 compared to the January-March period last year, Mr De Speville said the increase was exaggerated because last year's figures were unusually low. A total 141 police corruption cases were reported by the public in the first quarter of this year compared to 99 in the same period for last year. The previous high during the past five years was in the January-March quarter of 1989 when the public complained of 136 cases. Mr de Speville said the ICAC's own intelligence had also reflected similar patterns of reporting. He said there had been a change in the climate and culture of Hongkong, and critics of the ICAC when it was formed in 1974 had been confounded. ''Those people who said it was a waste of time setting up the ICAC because corruption is endemic in Hongkong, it's part of the culture, you will never change it, have been proved wrong,'' he said. The other three areas in which the ICAC received pursuable corruption reports also increased on last year. Claims involving government departments increased by 27 per cent on the same quarter last year. There was a 25 per cent rise in the reported corruption cases in public bodies and the ICAC's largest area of investigation - the private sector - saw an 18 per cent increase. In the first three months of this year, the commission arrested and charged 93 people over corruption allegations - a rise of 33 per cent on the first quarter of last year. The total number of reports from the public increased from 708 in the first quarter of 1992 to 1,140 in the same period this year, although 462 of these were judged to be non-pursuable because they did not come under the ICAC's terms of reference. Mr de Speville said the ICAC was also carrying out research into corruption encountered by local businessmen in China. ''That information will enable us to decide what sort of advice we should give to businessmen,'' he said. The ICAC would consider working more closely with other regions in China as well as Guangdong province.