Hong Kong people must remain vigilant on corruption
The last year or two have been one of the most momentous in the history of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The agency put an internal scandal behind it to burnish its credentials as a corruption fighter without fear or favour. That makes its latest annual survey of public perceptions of corruption the most interesting of the four conducted since 2011. Face-to-face interviews with 1,500 residents revealed that while the perception that corruption will worsen this year is at a four-year high, willingness to report suspected graft is at a four-year low.
An ICAC spokesman said the expectation of more corruption might have been affected by a few sensational cases. But rather than a sign of more corruption, these prosecutions showed the city still had a robust anti-graft regime.
He was referring, of course, to the jailing of a former chief secretary and a property tycoon and a case involving yet another chief secretary. Most respondents who were reluctant to report graft said they did not have time, which might reflect the duration and complexity of high-profile cases.
In the survey, 76.7 per cent of the respondents said they would be willing to expose corruption, down from the four-year high of 80.6 per cent in 2013, the year former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming was censured by Legco for lavish spending that breached internal rules. More than 20 per cent believed the level of corruption would rise this year compared with 11 per cent in 2011. Worryingly, tolerance of graft, measured on a scale from zero for total intolerance to 10 for total tolerance, reached a high of one, up from 0.8 the previous two years and 0.7 the year before.
These results remain well within the bounds of a society that prides itself on a clean business environment and largely corruption-free government. Nonetheless the trends need watching because perception is everything. The watchdog is an institutional pillar of the city's success. To remain effective it depends on credibility and firm public support.