ICAC should boy­cott LegCo ‘Re­becca Li’ se­lect com­mit­tee

Tony Kwok ex­plains why the LegCo se­lect com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the ICAC re­ally in­tends to hurt the rep­u­ta­tion of HK’s top anti-graft body

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

It is now bla­tantly clear that the sole ob­jec­tive of the “Re­becca Li” LegCo se­lect com­mit­tee is to dam­age the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion Against Cor­rup­tion’s (ICAC) in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion by scor­ing cheap po­lit­i­cal points for its chief pro­po­nents. From the start of the saga, the “pan-demo­cratic” leg­is­la­tors did ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to prompt the in­ter­na­tional me­dia and sen­sa­tion­al­ize the is­sue. The New York Times quoted Demo­cratic Party chair Emily Lau Wai­hing as say­ing,“Hong Kong is fin­ished!” The Diplo­mat also quoted Ap­ple Daily as say­ing that “the re­moval of Li was due to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s dis­trust in her due to her his­tory with the FBI”. There is noth­ing fur­ther from the truth!

Li’s “his­tory with the FBI” is sim­ply that she was sent to the US Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion Academy for four-weeks’ mid-man­age­ment train­ing dur­ing my term as deputy com­mis­sioner. At that time we sent of­fi­cers for train­ing not just to the FBI but to the UK Po­lice Staff Col­lege, the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice Academy, the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice Col­lege, etc, as part of the en­hanced pro­fes­sional train­ing pro­gram for mid-level of­fi­cers. It’s pre­pos­ter­ous to sug­gest that Li was re­moved from her act­ing post be­cause of her train­ing with the FBI. If noth­ing else it demon­strated the in­ter­na­tional me­dia’s ig­no­rance, if not de­ceit­ful po­lit­i­cal slan­der, on China and the SAR, aided by the lo­cal “pan­dems”.

If there is to be any crit­i­cism of the ICAC’s han­dling of this episode, I be­lieve it is that the com­mis­sioner was too kind-hearted and con­sid­er­ate. When Li was placed in the act­ing post in 2015, it was clear that it was an “act­ing ap­point­ment for ad­min­is­tra­tive con­ve­nience”, im­ply­ing that she was not con­sid­ered suit­able for pro­mo­tion at that time. But since no other suit­able can­di­date was avail­able, she was asked to act tem­po­rar­ily for op­er­a­tional con­ve­nience un­til a suit­able can­di­date could be iden­ti­fied.

If the ICAC com­mis­sioner had an­nounced this fact at the time of her act­ing, the sub­se­quent step­ping down would not have cre­ated such a com­mo­tion. But the com­mis­sioner was clearly try­ing to be con­sid­er­ate by not men­tion­ing this fact, so she could main­tain the nec­es­sary au­thor­ity to run the Op­er­a­tions Depart­ment dur­ing her The au­thor is a for­mer deputy com­mis­sioner of the ICAC and cur­rently an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of HKU SPACE and an in­ter­na­tional anti-cor­rup­tion con­sul­tant. act­ing term. It should be pointed out that pro­longed act­ing for ad­min­is­tra­tive con­ve­nience is hardly un­usual in the civil ser­vice and should not gen­er­ate any con­tro­versy. For ex­am­ple, Stephen Fisher was act­ing di­rec­tor of so­cial wel­fare for two years with­out achiev­ing pro­mo­tion when he re­tired. The for­mer com­mis­sioner of the ICAC, Ber­trand de Speville, also re­vealed he had acted as so­lic­i­tor-gen­eral in the Depart­ment of Jus­tice for over a year with­out sub­stan­tive pro­mo­tion.

The Demo­cratic Party’s Lam Cheuk­t­ing, who claims to be an ICAC ex­pert due to his three-year em­ploy­ment with the ICAC as a ju­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor, pro­posed set­ting up a Pow­ers and Priv­i­leges pub­lic hear­ing on this is­sue. He al­leges that Li’s res­ig­na­tion was re­lated to the ICAC in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the prop­er­tyre­lated UGL af­fair in­volv­ing the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive. When asked to pro­duce any ev­i­dence to sup­port his al­le­ga­tion, he could pro­duce none!

As Ber­trand de Speville, a highly re­spected ICAC com­mis­sioner dur­ing the Bri­tish colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion, pointed out, “The checks and bal­ances and the ac­count­abil­ity sys­tems in the ICAC, es­pe­cially the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tees, pro­tect it from any po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.”

One of the most im­por­tant watch­dog com­mit­tees is the Op­er­a­tions Re­view Com­mit­tee (ORC), con­sist­ing of mem­bers of high stand­ing, in­clud­ing at least two mem­bers from the “pan­dem” camp. Dur­ing its meet­ings ev­ery six weeks the ORC re­ceives progress re­ports on all ma­jor ICAC in­ves­ti­ga­tions, plus a com­pre­hen­sive re­port at the con­clu­sion of each in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Hence it is not pos­si­ble for any po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence in ICAC in­ves­ti­ga­tions to es­cape the com­mit­tee’s no­tice. Per­haps Lam Cheuk-ting was too ju­nior dur­ing his ICAC ser­vice to have a chance to un­der­stand the ORC’s func­tions or to ap­pear be­fore it.

His pub­lic hear­ing pro­posal was de­lib­er­ated at length and de­feated. And that should have been the end of the mat­ter. How­ever, the “pan-dems” abused their power by need­lessly set­ting up a LegCo se­lect com­mit­tee that looks to be doomed to com­plete fail­ure. Such a com­mit­tee has no power to or­der any re­lease of doc­u­ments or to sum­mon wit­nesses, and from past prac­tices, they have never achieved any­thing use­ful but to put on a hol­low po­lit­i­cal show while wast­ing pub­lic re­sources and man­power. But in this case, it could pos­si­bly set an ex­tremely bad prece­dent that will re­ver­ber­ate through our en­tire civil ser­vice.

It is a golden rule of the civil ser­vice that it never dis­closes why any par­tic­u­lar of­fi­cer failed to be pro­moted be­cause to do so could hold such of­fi­cers up to pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion over their sup­posed de­fi­cien­cies. There­fore the great­est vic­tim of this se­lect com­mit­tee could be Re­becca Li her­self! Hence in or­der to pro­tect the long-stand­ing civil ser­vice pol­icy and the rep­u­ta­tion of Li, the ICAC should in my view boy­cott this se­lect com­mit­tee. It could put up a pub­lic writ­ten sub­mis­sion but should refuse to ap­pear be­fore the com­mit­tee. This may pre­vent the com­mit­tee from set­ting a dan­ger­ous prece­dent and fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing what is but an or­di­nary civil ser­vice per­son­nel move­ment.

Such a com­mit­tee has no power to or­der any re­lease of doc­u­ments or to sum­mon wit­nesses, and from past prac­tices, they have never achieved any­thing use­ful but to put on a hol­low po­lit­i­cal show while wast­ing pub­lic re­sources and man­power. But in this case, it could pos­si­bly set an ex­tremely bad prece­dent that will re­ver­ber­ate through our en­tire civil ser­vice.”

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