Chief executive of Hong Kong should not be ICAC boss, former head graft-buster says

SCMP | EDT3 | EDT | Politics | By Joyce Ng

Ex-commissioner Bertrand de Speville says law giving HK leader ultimate power over city’s anti-graft agency is colonial relic that should be scrapped

Former chief graft-buster Bertrand de Speville yesterday called on Hong Kong to scrap the law that makes the ICAC answerable only to the city's leader, dismissing it as a "colonial relic".

Two former government ministers also called for the next Legislative Council to investigate recent management controversies at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which have sparked speculation about political interference.

De Speville, who stepped down as ICAC commissioner in 1996, suggested the legislative rethink at a forum organised by think-tank Hong Kong 2020 and Project Citizens Foundation.

Looking back at the ICAC's structure and changes since it was founded in 1974, he suggested that it had not adapted to a changed environment in some respects.

He would not comment directly on the contentious departure of acting head of operations Rebecca Li Bo-lan, which has been speculatively linked to an investigation she was supervising into Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's past business dealings.

De Speville said he met current commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu on Friday over lunch. He did not see the need for Peh to resign over the ICAC's troubles, but stressed the need for reform.

"A strange feature of the law is that it states that the [colonial] governor, now the chief executive, can order and control the ICAC," he said. "Is it not time to look at section 5 of the ICAC Ordinance, a colonial relic of those times, and allow the commission's operational autonomy to rest on the security of law rather than the forbearance of the chief executive?"

That clause states that the commissioner is "subject to the orders and control of the chief executive" and no one else.

Those words could be deleted, he said, so that the ICAC would be free from any interference.

De Speville explained that the words were written into the law because the government at the time wanted to make sure the ICAC, "a new creation with novel, extensive powers", would not go out of control.

Such a design had not presented a threat to the operational autonomy of the ICAC because past governors and chief executives had "wisely exercised restraint", he said.

With more measures already in place to ensure that the ICAC was not a law unto itself, it was time to amend the law, as a review of the ICAC's role and accountability was long overdue, De Speville suggested. He noted that it had been 22 years since the last review conducted by an independent committee.

Attending the same forum, former pan-democrat lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who was a member of the ICAC's operations review committee, said she did not think amending the law would help. "Even if the ICAC is made accountable to an independent committee, that committee will again be appointed by the chief executive," she said.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who runs Hong Kong 2020, urged lawmakers to be elected next month to invoke special powers to look into the whole controversy. They should also urge the chief executive to honour his election promise to carry out the review of the ICAC, she said.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary for the civil service, echoed Chan's views.