With succession question settled, graft watchdog can now regain trust and move on

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 9:58pm

When the anti-corruption squad becomes the news itself, it could spell trouble for Hong Kong’s image as a clean city. There was a time, unfortunately, when personnel changes at the Independent Commission Against Corruption had fuelled speculation and doubts about its integrity. Now that the issues are being settled, there is hope that the watchdog can regain public trust and move on.

In question is the No 2 job that has been left vacant for about three years. The drama began in 2016 when Rebecca Li Bo-lan suddenly resigned after being removed from the deputy commissioner post that she had held in an acting capacity for a year. The position was then filled by Ricky Yau Shu-chun, also in an acting capacity, for the next two years. Yau also resigned initially but was retained.

Critics linked Li’s departure to a controversial case involving former chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the payment of HK$50 million from the Australian company UGL a few years ago, although the reasons for such a link have not been clearly established. Leung also denied any wrongdoing. Without further evidence, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. But the prolonged acting arrangement for Li’s successor was hardly good for stability and the commission’s long-term operations. Even current Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was apparently dismayed by the situation. She told lawmakers last month that she had instructed commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu to “handle succession issues well”.

Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency finally appoints a new No 2 in Ricky Yau

The confirmation of Yau as the deputy chief and head of operations on Monday is to be welcomed. It clears the uncertainty surrounding the top investigating unit of the city’s anti-graft agency and enables it to move on. The ICAC will continue to be judged by the way sensitive cases are handled.

We trust the commission will continue to pursue the corrupt without fear or favour. This is how confidence and credibility are to be restored. Equally important is succession, without which stability and continuity will be at risk. The chief executive has rightly emphasised the importance of succession. It is incumbent upon the commissioner to ensure that internal operations will not be compromised by personnel changes.

The importance of the ICAC to Hong Kong’s success cannot be overstated. It remains the institutional pillar that sets the city apart from the region. But perception and confidence can be fragile, as shown in the appointment row and the controversies surrounding the lavish work style of former commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming. Whether we can remain a corruption-free city hinges on the commission’s integrity.