Hong Kong anti-corruption chief hits back at criticism that top post has been left vacant

Simon Peh Yun-lu says those who have been critical that the agency has not appointed a head for its powerful Operations Department ‘always talk gibberish’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 7:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 7:33am

Leaving Hong Kong’s top corruption investigator job vacant for years has not harmed the work of the anti-corruption body, its current chief has said, as he lashed out at those who criticise the agency.

The strong remarks from Independent Commission Against Corruption commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu came as the body has failed to officially appoint a head of the agency’s powerful investigation unit, the Operations Department, since the post was left vacant in July 2015.

The current acting operations chief Ricky Yau Shu-chun has been in the position for administrative convenience since July 2016. If and when Yau would be officially named the top investigator and deputy commissioner remained unclear.

The issue has sparked debate internally and in the Legislative Council, with pro-democracy lawmakers worrying that the vacancy had hurt staff morale and investigative work.

Peh told the Post that there was no “fixed term” for an acting position and that the agency has been functioning well.

ICAC’s failure to appoint operations chief is hurting staff morale, former agency official says

“Someone felt that it was a problem and told others and made them believe it was,” Peh said. “But I want to tell everyone that there is no problem at all … Some people, who thought they knew ICAC well, always talk gibberish.”

Peh said he would look at candidates’ leadership skills, management power and strategy planning to determine if an officer was fit for a top post. The promotion procedures within the agency follow the same system as the government, he added.

“It is not decided or dictated by one person. There is a system,” Peh said. “Some might say a certain person is a great graft-buster and had cracked major cases in the past. This is, of course, important, however, you don’t need to do such things any more as a member of the top brass, but [you must] focus on something else, like how to lead the department ... and [how] to advance with the times.”

Peh said that the anti-corruption body had been under attack in recent years, despite its great work and that he did not understand the purpose behind the ill will.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a corruption-investigator-turned-lawmaker, said he knew the agency well and denied talking nonsense.

“I did not target or criticise ICAC, [I criticised] its commissioner. I made responsible criticism against the feckless and destructive decisions made by Peh,” Lam said.

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He claimed the agency had never left a top post vacant for so long and it would undoubtedly jeopardise its work, as the operations head, who would also be the deputy commissioner, needed to map out a long term anti-corruption strategy.

“The position is similar to the director of immigration. You can’t leave it vacant for years,” Lam said. “Yau’s two right-hand men … the two directors of investigation, will retire by the end of this year. How can you still leave the top post hanging?”

In 2016, ICAC went through a series of controversial shake-ups, including the removal of acting operations head Rebecca Li Bo-lan from her post in July, which sparked an uproar.

Acting Chief Secretary Wong Kam-sing told the Legislative Council in May that there had always been a number of acting positions in all ranks at the agency.

“Having an officer acting as the head of operations is not a special situation. It does not violate any government or ICAC rules,” Wong told.

In the same month, pan-democrat lawmakers proposed discussing the agency’s management succession with the Legco’s security panel, but was banned by panel chairman Chan Hak-kan.