THE ICAC has been dogged by a series of controversial cases throughout its 20-year history.

Many contentious issues have been kept behind closed doors purely because of a restrictive clause, Section 8 (2) of the ICAC Ordinance, an act which empowers the commissioner not to give reasons for any staff dismissal.

But the last year has been a particularly torrid time for the commission, with things coming to a head last autumn with the controversial sacking of the deputy director of operations, Alex Tsui Ka-kit. His dismissal prompted widespread criticism, targeted at the powers and accountability of the graft-fighting organisation.

A wave of publicity followed, with both the public and legislators demanding that ICAC Commissioner Bertrand de Speville explain his actions. But what critics failed to recognise was that the commissioner's hands were tied by the law.

When John Prendergast and Jack (now Sir) Cater wrote the charter for the ICAC 20 years ago, they sought powers seldom granted to any British law enforcement body.

It was essential to introduce such strong measures if the new body was to have any effect on corruption which was rife in Hong Kong - but that was two decades ago. Society has become more liberal now, and many say it is time for the ICAC Ordinance to be updated.

The introduction of the Government watchdog is designed to look into just that. The terms of reference of the committee are: 1. To review the powers of the ICAC under the ICAC Ordinance, the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Ordinance, and to advise the Governor whether these powers remain appropriate, necessary and sufficient.

2. To review the accountability of the ICAC in the exercise of its powers, including the role played by the existing five ICAC Advisory Committees, and to advise the Governor whether the present systems of accountability are adequate or should be modified.