22 September 2019
Recent developments at the Independent Commission Against Corruption raise questions over the independence and integrity of the institution. Photo: Bloomberg
Recent developments at the Independent Commission Against Corruption raise questions over the independence and integrity of the institution. Photo: Bloomberg

Another bastion of Hong Kong’s way of life is under attack

The pace at which the defenses of Hong Kong’s way of life are crumbling is quite terrifying.

Now yet another bastion of the defense mechanism is under threat as questions grow over the independence and integrity of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The degree of unease within the ICAC has been underlined by the silent but telling demonstration by some 80 percent of the organizations’ staff who were planning to boycott an anniversary dinner which was later canceled.

This flows from the abrupt demotion and subsequent resignation of Rebecca Li Bo-lan, the well-regarded acting head of operations.

Li’s resignation was followed by that of principal investigator Dale Ko, for undisclosed reasons.

The ICAC boss, Simon Peh Yun-lu, swears blind that it was his independent decision to demote Li based on her unsatisfactory performance.

However, after telling the public how unsuitable Li was for the job, Peh self-righteously declared that he could not go into further details as this meant going into “matters of assessment or staff changes”.

ICAC sources, quoted elsewhere in the media, say they were unaware that Li’s competence was ever in question; on the contrary, she has a reputation for dedication to her work and was well respected in many quarters.

It is being suggested that she fell under a cloud for trying to pursue the investigation into the HK$50m payment to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying by UGL, an investigation that appears to be stalled for a suspiciously long period of time.

Peh denies that the Chief Executive had any direct role in Li’s demotion but, interestingly, did not directly deny that he received any pressure from the Central Liaison office, which is said to have raised questions over her FBI training course.

Mainland officials are famously paranoid over the idea of foreign intelligence agency’s infiltration.

Were this an isolated case involving one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s way of life it would be easy to dismiss the rumors and assert that the defenders of “one country, two systems” are nothing less than paranoid themselves.

However, this comes at the end of a long line of disturbing indications over mainland pressure to dismantle the very foundations of the system separating Hong Kong from the one-party dictatorship.

Top of the “worry list” is the continuing booksellers’ saga, demonstrating that Hong Kong people conducting perfectly legal activity in the SAR are liable to be seized and detained on the mainland.

Then there has been the rapid politicization of the police force and its deployment in a manner edging closer to the way that security organizations on the mainland deal with protests and opposition figures.

Buzzing in the background have been ominous warnings issued to the judiciary by mainland media, reminding them to bear in mind patriotic considerations in making court rulings.

More generally we have seen a swathe of acts of retaliation against pro-democracy figures ranging from the absurd attempt at censorship by a cosmetics company to the more substantial targeting of pro-democracy activists in universities, and then there is the mounting evidence of exclusion of dissident voices from the mainstream media.

As ever each and every one of these assaults on the “two countries” part of the system is shrouded in bureaucratic-sounding excuses or simply provokes a wall of silence.

Those wishing to undermine liberty rarely, if ever, have the courage to simply state that this is their aim.

Only the most myopic of observers can ignore these developments. Yet, even those who cling tenaciously to the view that there must be a limit to the undermining of Hong Kong’s way of life did not guess that a body like the ICAC, which has a stellar record of pursuing corruption without fear or favor, would become a target of external meddling.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this development because it demonstrates that there are no barriers to the assault on Hong Kong’s institutions.

Silence and sullen acceptance of fate are the worst possible responses to this assault.

The enemies of freedom work in the dark and strive to shut out the noise that undermines their work.

Yet none of this inevitable, nor is it unstoppable.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author