Three key issues will be in focus in the Legislative Council elections in September — Leung Chun-ying’s potential reelection, a referendum on 2047 and relaunch of political reform.
With the latest developments regarding the Independent Commission Against Corruption, we should add Hong Kong’s anti-graft watchdog to the list.
Last week, it was announced that Rebecca Li, acting head of operations and the ICAC’s No. 2 official, will be replaced by Ricky Yau, formerly director of investigations for the private sector.
Reports say Li was ousted because she was “not sensitive enough” in handling cases involving mainland parties.
More importantly, Li was leading an investigation into a HK$50 million payment to Leung from Australian engineering firm UGL relating to the latter’s acquisition of his real estate firm.
ICAC commissioner Simon Peh gave no explanation for Li’s abrupt departure.
He said only that Li, 53, “will go on final leave on July 18”.
(Editor’s note: Peh told the media on Monday that Li was demoted because “she failed to perform to the standard required for the senior post” and that he notified Leung about the decision but insisted Leung was “not involved in the entire process”.)
The senior graft-buster was stripped of her post before the public could hear any progress on the ICAC’s UGL investigation.
This is more troubling than the bookseller abduction saga. I urge anyone running in the Lego election to speak out on this matter.
When the ICAC commissioner is appointed by the chief executive and becomes accountable only to that person, who is in turn handpicked by the corruption-plagued Beijing government, how can he be expected to show spine and integrity in the job?
There are likely to be more cases involving mainland parties or conflict of interest involving Hong Kong’s rich and powerful.
Also, what will stop the government from using the ICAC to suppress its enemies and critics?
How should future lawmakers respond?
The ICAC had a vaunted history during the British colonial administration.
The governor oversaw the anti-corruption watchdog as a matter of personal reputation and official responsibility.
That kind of arms-length relationship ended after the handover of sovereignty to China.
The case of former ICAC chief Timothy Tong’s lavish spending of public funds to curry favor with mainland officials stained the agency’s reputation.
And now we are seeing another heavy body blow.
Just like the appointment of university council chairmen and members, the selection of senior ICAC officials and its governance must be changed.
The Democratic Party revealed that an ICAC request to the Office of the Chief Executive and the Executive Council secretariat for information relating to Leung’s UGL payment got no reply.
But the ICAC took just six months, from February to August 2013, to finish its investigation into Lew Mon-hung, a key Leung ally-turned-critic, and charge him with perverting the course of justice.
Lew was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The Executive Council secretariat cooperated throughout the ICAC investigation of former chief executive Donald Tsang and former chief secretary Rafael Hui.
Leung appointed Maria Tam, a loyalist, to head the Operations Review Committee, which has authority over ICAC findings.
The ICAC Ordinance states that the chief executive can appoint the commissioner and deputy commissioners “on such terms and conditions as he may think fit”, as well as all members of the four ICAC-related committees.
The chief executive’s power over the ICAC is broader than that over tertiary institutions.
We know that the supposedly independent graft watchdog is anything but that. No one can stop the chief executive from using it as pleases.
Lawmakers must seek ways to change the ICAC Ordinance. That should be a top concern in the upcoming Legco election campaign.
Legco president Jasper Tsang, seen as a chief executive hopeful, has again hinted that people should not assume that Beijing’s election reform proposal in the selection of the next chief executive is cast in stone.
But Tsang is notorious for double talk.
Would Beijing even consider easing its bottom line?
Don’t forget that two years ago, Li Fei (李飛), deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress standing committee, told Hong Kong lawmakers that the political reform resolution has no time limit and all future chief executive elections must be held as approved by Beijing.
He warned that flouting the resolution is tantamount to flouting “one country, two systems”.
A personnel reshuffle of Hong Kong policymakers may lead to some changes, but never to the core issues.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 11.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]