LCQ18: Commissioner of ICAC's appointment and accountability systems

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 27):


     It has been reported that the last Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (the Commissioner) was alleged to have often violated the relevant regulations on expenditure during his term of office (e.g. buying hard liquor and gifts with public money for entertainment and bestowal of gifts for guests and mainland officials), which are acts that should not have been done by the head of an organisation devoted to fighting corruption and promoting integrity.  Some comments have attributed the cause of this incident to the fact that the current system of appointment of the Commissioner by the Chief Executive (CE) (the Commissioner's appointment system) has no objective selection criteria and lacks transparency.  Besides, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has spent much time in the investigation into the corruption complaint against CE of the last term but the case is yet to conclude, and some people have conjectured that such a situation is unusual.  There are comments that such conjecture was caused by the fact that the Commissioner is only accountable to CE (the Commissioner's accountability system) at present.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  whether it will, in the light of the aforesaid situations, consider afresh conducting a study on and making improvements to the Commissioner's appointment system, such as introducing more objective criteria in the selection of candidates for the Commissioner, refraining from appointing a candidate who has not yet left or may in future return to the civil service, and enhancing the transparency of the appointment process;

(b)  whether it has assessed if the Commissioner's accountability system should be reviewed and improved, so as to ensure that ICAC can effectively investigate complaints in relation to allegations of corruption or dereliction of duty against CE; if it has assessed, of the results; if not, whether it will do so immediately; and

(c)  whether it has examined if the current Commissioner's appointment and accountability systems will lead or has led the public to query if ICAC is able to investigate impartially complaints about alleged dereliction of duty by a former or the incumbent CE; if it has examined, of the results; if not, whether it will do so immediately?



     The way in which the former Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) handled expenses on official entertainment, bestowal of gifts and duty visits during his term of office has caused public concerns.  I wish to take this opportunity to reiterate that the ICAC has, since its establishment, devoted itself to anti-corruption work and it has successfully upheld Hong Kong's core value of fairness and probity.  We understand that the public attaches great importance to the work of the ICAC and has a very high expectation of the personal integrity of the ICAC personnel, in particular that of the senior staff.  To this end, the Administration attaches great importance to the incident and handles it seriously in order to maintain public confidence in the ICAC.

     The Independent Review Committee (IRC) appointed by the Chief Executive (CE) released its report on September 12 this year, which reviewed the ICAC's regulatory systems and procedures for handling expenses on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits, including arrangements for application, reimbursement and approval; reviewed the compliance of the ICAC staff of all ranks with the regulatory systems and procedures during the term of the former Commissioner of the ICAC; and made a number of recommendations for improving the aforesaid systems and procedures.  The incumbent Commissioner of the ICAC had expressed on the date of the release of the IRC report that the ICAC accepted all recommendations made by the IRC and would put them in place as soon as possible.

     My response to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Paul Tse is as follows:

(a)  Pursuant to Article 57 of the Basic Law, a Commission Against Corruption shall be established in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).  It shall function independently and be accountable to CE.

     Pursuant to Article 48 of the Basic Law, CE nominates and reports to the Central People's Government for appointment of all principal officials, including the Commissioner of the ICAC.  Article 61 of the Basic Law stipulates that the principal officials of the HKSAR shall be Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of the HKSAR with no right of abode in any foreign country and have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 15 years.  We consider that it is not necessary to have other requirements in addition to those set out under the Basic Law.

     Consistent with the appointment of other principal officials, the CE handles the appointment of the Commissioner of the ICAC by strictly adhering to the requirements under the Basic Law; and on the bases of credentials, experiences, abilities and personal integrity so that the ICAC can exercise its statutory functions effectively and uphold Hong Kong's core value of probity and fairness.  Excluding serving civil servants from consideration for appointment will restrict the pool of talents.  We therefore do not consider it appropriate.

(b) and (c) By virtue of section 12(b)(ii) of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Ordinance (ICACO) (Cap. 204), it shall be the duty of the Commissioner of the ICAC to investigate any suspected offence under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (POBO) (Cap. 201) as committed by any person (including the CE).

     The ICAC has established procedures in handling corruption complaints, including complaints against the CE.  Upon receiving a corruption complaint, regardless of the target of the complaint, as long as there is sufficient information for follow-up, the Commissioner of the ICAC is required to investigate the complaint independently and impartially, in strict accordance with ICACO and established procedures.  Legal advice will also be sought from the Department of Justice during the process when necessary.

     The progress and outcome of all investigations conducted by the ICAC will be reported to the independent Operations Review Committee and subject to its scrutiny.  Under the existing checks and balances which have proven to be effective, no person, including the Commissioner of the ICAC, will take the liberty of terminating an investigation.

     The ICAC is prohibited by law from disclosing to the CE the presence of, or details about, a corruption complaint/investigation against the CE.  If the Commissioner of the ICAC disclosed to the CE that the CE was subject to an investigation being conducted by the ICAC or any details about the investigation without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the Commissioner of the ICAC would commit an offence under section 30(1) of POBO.

Ends/Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Issued at HKT 18:51