Legco security panel head calls off discussion on top graft-buster post left vacant after 2016 shake-up

No formal appointment after previous Independent Commission Against Corruption acting operations head was controversially removed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 11:18pm

A leadership vacancy at Hong Kong’s corruption watchdog will not be discussed by the Legislative Council’s security panel, although there has been no formal appointment to the post in nearly three years.

In 2016, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (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.

Panel chairman Gary Chan Hak-kan, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, called off the discussion at Friday morning’s meeting, saying many panel members were opposed to it and there were too many other issues pending.

“Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting has in fact fully expressed his opinions on the matter on other occasions,” Chan said, referring to the democrat who presented the item to the panel in October 2016, three months after Li’s removal.

“I believe he can continue to drive on the discussion through various channels.”

Chan decided to keep the item on the panel’s agenda.

Pro-establishment panel members have argued that the legislature should not intervene in appointments and promotions in law enforcement departments.

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said: “The ICAC has been a well-respected independent organisation in Hong Kong. It’s inappropriate for us to point fingers over its staffing issues. I disagree with discussing the item at our next meeting.”

Legislator Chan Chun-ying, who represents the financial sector, said: “In its letter of reply, the ICAC stated clearly that the commission’s operation is not affected, which I can testify from my experience of working with them.”

Chan is a member of the ICAC’s Operations Review Committee – one of the four advisory committees appointed by the chief executive to oversee the work of the anti-graft agency.

Pro-democracy legislators countered that discussion was different from intervention.

James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the panel, gave three reasons. “First, we are not asking about all staffing issues [in the law enforcement sector]. If my colleagues here think it’s normal to have such an important post vacated for three years, then I can say nothing more,” he said.

“Second, discussion is not intervention. We need to learn about what difficulties the ICAC is facing in terms of the appointment. Third, does the ICAC plan to keep the post vacated for the next four to five years? If so, it will be abnormal if we do not discuss it.”

People Power’s Raymond Chan Chi-chuen also argued that the panel served as “the best platform for the discussion”.

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

Chan said: “It’s ridiculous for the ICAC to argue in its letter of reply that keeping an acting head is not a problem because Hong Kong has got higher spots in international integrity rankings. Does it mean that we can fire the commissioner if Hong Kong drops in those rankings?”

Li resigned in 2016 after ICAC commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu terminated her acting appointment and asked her to return to her previous role as director of investigations for the public sector.

She had held the post for just under a year after taking over from the retired Ryan Wong Sai-chiu in 2015.

Pro-democracy lawmakers linked her demotion to a probe she was leading into the HK$50 million payment that then chief executive Leung Chun-ying had received from Australian company UGL.

But Peh took sole responsibility, saying that Li had failed to meet the job requirements and denying that Leung had anything to do with the controversial move.

Instead of appointing a formal successor to Li, the agency put Ricky Yau Shu-chun in the post as acting operations head “for the purpose of administrative convenience”, according to Peh.

Yau announced his resignation the same month but backtracked hours later. The internal wrangling hurt the standing of the agency and put Peh’s leadership into question.

In April, the ICAC extended Yau’s acting period for another three months, until July 17.

The Operations Department is the ICAC’s largest department, comprising two divisions that investigate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors. The head of operations, who is also the deputy commissioner, reports to the commissioner.