It’s simply not fine for ICAC chief to say everything’s fine

Questions as to why the top operations job in the graft-buster is still vacant after three years need an explanation in such a politically charged atmosphere

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 4:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2018, 4:25am

Every few months, there is a story on the ICAC: “Top operations post (still) left vacant, morale hit”, or some such variant.

Another story usually follows, with an angry chief of the Independent Commission Against Corruption rebutting ignorant or malicious critics and saying everything is working just fine.

True to form, Simon Peh Yun-lu just came out and told reporters – again – that the lack of a prominent appointment for an operations chief did no harm to the commission. “I want to tell everyone that there is no problem at all,” the commissioner said “Some people, who thought they knew ICAC well, always talk gibberish.”

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Unfortunately, the abrupt departure of Rebecca Li Bo-lan as the acting head of the operations department two years ago has left a cloud still hanging over the graft-fighting body.

A highly respected veteran investigator, Li’s departure was never adequately explained to the public, hence helping to give rise to rumours and conspiracy theories.

Along with reports of internal fighting affecting staff morale, Li’s case will continue to be cited in the media and in questioning by lawmakers so long as there is no permanent appointment of a qualified candidate.

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Whatever the substance of the case, the optics continue to make it difficult for Peh to restore public trust in the commission following the departure of his controversial predecessor, Timothy Tong Hin-ming.

Ever since Li left, Ricky Yau Shu-chun has occupied the post, in an acting capacity. So, is he not good enough for a permanent promotion, or is there someone better waiting in the wings?

Peh said there was no “fixed term” for an acting post and there was a system in place for hiring, rather than something depending on his say-so. Well, if that the case, maybe it’s time to review “the system”, which has left such a key position open for at least three years, including the one year Li had served.

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We are, after all, talking about the chief of operations of the ICAC.

Owing to the deep political divisiveness running through our society, previously non-political law enforcement agencies such as the police and ICAC have been drawn into the fray against their will, their operations and decisions frequently questioned by one side or the other.

Like it or not, that is the reality of the post-handover era, and saying “trust me, everything’s fine” is not just inadequate, but counterproductive.