Recruitment push to set up civil service vetting squad

THE Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) wants to secretly recruit a team of police Special Branch officers to manage a proposed civil service integrity vetting unit.

It is understood four operatives are being sought to head a 10-strong squad.

However, delicate negotiations have been stalled pending the resolution of serious concerns raised recently by the committee set up to review the ICAC's powers and functions.

It is expected these complications will be overcome some time this week ahead of an official announcement on the ICAC's vetting role.

On July 1, the ICAC is due to assume the vetting duty currently performed by the Special Branch.

''It has not yet been officially authorised but we expect that to be a pretty straightforward matter,'' one source said.


''Once this is approved, we will take on responsibility for extended vetting checking of civil servants.

''It will be a voluntary contribution and only apply to top-level positions; only selected posts - the sort of posts you expect people's integrity needs to be checked.

''We are, after all, responsible for keeping clean government.'' It is understood the officers being targeted by the ICAC have long been dedicated to integrity checking.

It is not known, however, if they will be seconded, laterally transferred or directly recruited to the ICAC and whether the entitlements they held in the Special Branch - including a possible right of abode and pension rights - will still apply.


Of the 10-strong team, six will undertake direct interviews of applicants and four will be employed as support staff.

If a move is made to block the proposed direct appointment of the Special Branch officers, it is expected a secondary approach will be launched to have them train the first team of ICAC officers in processes involved in verifying personal backgrounds.


''Obviously, it would be much more productive to have them directly involved in the process,'' the source said.

''But, we are hopeful we will at least be able to get them to assist with our training.'' Under the ICAC proposals, senior civil servant applicants will be bound to complete a form detailing a range of private matters. It is believed they will then be interviewed and their supervising officers and nominated referees might also be questioned.

After these procedures, vetting checks will be completed before the applicant is asked back for a further interview.


Earlier this month, the ICAC review committee chairman, Dr Helmut Sohmen, queried the corruption-fighting body's capacity to handle the checking.

Dr Sohmen said he was not totally convinced that the ICAC ''really had the professional expertise on the personality and behavioural patterns of people that are being vetted''.

At the committee's last meeting, it was revealed police had not been considered to continue the checking of top civil servants.


The Civil Service Branch also expressed disinterest in setting up a separate unit to tackle the job.

Eventually, the Attorney-General's Chambers advised that the incorporation of vetting duties would not violate the ICAC ordinance.

The Secretary for the Civil Service, Michael Sze Cho-cheung, has stated he does not object to the ICAC's Operations Review Committee - the body which helps to monitor corruption investigations - having a review function in the vetting of civil servants.

The Special Branch is winding down ahead of its dissolution in mid-1995.

Under a new name, the Police Security Wing, it will have a new charter of operations, the most notable being the scrapping of its China spying teams and the boosting of counter-terrorism.