[審計申訴專員及官隙] Editorial ICAC’s credibility

【明報專訊】MORE AND MORE information has come to light about former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong’s overspending on entertainment and gifts. It is clear from what our reporters have gathered that his misconduct involved not only himself but also others. Furthermore, it seems clear that some are trying to create the impression that officers of the ICAC adhere to its rules and procedures and one should rightly conclude none has done anything wrong and none should be held liable.

Our reporters have discovered by referring to records that the amount of money Timothy Tong spent on gifts when he was ICAC commissioner is actually several times that the ICAC indicated the other day ($220,000). At least a sum of $48,000 spent on cookies and mooncakes was excluded.

We gather the sum was “hidden" because some ICAC officers thought neither cookies nor mooncakes counted as gifts and it was not an expenditure on gifts that should be made public. It is crucial who should decide what amounts to a gift and what should count as a gift expenditure because that may have to do with whether a cover-up has been attempted. In replying to our enquiry, the ICAC denied any such attempt, saying the ICAC officers who looked at the information in question thought gifts did not include foods and thus excluded pastries. The idea that one who offers another a food product does not make the other a gift is presumably at odds with ordinary people’s perception. Were the ICAC right, expensive foods like abalone, red bird’s nest, ginseng and Chinese caterpillar fungus would not count as gifts. Then what would be the point of limiting the value of a gift? Would that not justify and legalise bribery?

The fact that the expenditure on cookies and mooncakes Timothy Tong gave away when he visited other places is absent from the ICAC’s list shows he misbehaved with ICAC officers’ cooperation. It is worth finding out what functions those people served. While Timothy Tong’s misconduct was mainly his doing, it had something to do with the ICAC’s organisation and accounting system. Only if this is perceived will it be possible to find the truth and prescribe what may help refurbish the ICAC’s image.

Though ICAC commissioner Simon Peh has said he will deal with the matter totally impartially, his assertion that his colleagues always do things by the book and are never dishonest may prove premature, for the sophistry that food products do not count as gifts can hardly be called honest.

We have pointed this out for the purpose of reminding ICAC commissioner Simon Peh that he ought to be clear what has actually happened and must play no part in any cover-up or any attempt to shield any wrongdoer. The “ICAC-gate" shows the ICAC’s code of ethics has been seriously undermined. To save themselves, corrupt officers will go to any lengths to avail themselves of any loopholes in the ICAC’s rules and procedures. If they are allowed to have their own way, the pathogen of corruption will spread in the ICAC and harm its constitution. In that event, its spiritual outlook can never be restored to its former appearance. This is a critical moment – a turning point in the fight against corruption in Hong Kong. We hope Simon Peh will stay highly vigilant and avoid drowning in the cesspit of the ICAC. We hope he will do whatever he can to open up a new dimension with a view to safeguarding clean government – which is part of Hong Kong’s core values.

明報社評2013.04.26﹕若讓程序醬缸掩飾腐敗 廉署公信力將一沉不起

前任廉政專員湯顯明超支酬酢與送禮,愈揭愈多,據《明報》記者偵查所得,湯顯明的不當情事,並非僅他一人而已,還涉及其他人,而且情况顯示事態被引導往「按規定、按程序辦事」的方向操作,意圖製造無人犯錯、無人需要負責的結論。

據記者排查資料,得知日前廉署公布湯顯明任內送禮價值22萬元,只是他送出禮物總值的其中一小部分,實際數額是22萬元的數倍,包括一筆購買曲奇餅、月餅等的費用4.8萬元。

據知,這筆「被隱藏」的禮物開支,廉署有人認為購買曲奇餅與月餅的金額,並非禮物開支,不計入要公布的「送禮開支」。究竟是誰決定什麼才算禮物、怎樣才算送禮和送禮開支,十分重要,因為關乎是否有人刻意隱瞞。廉署答覆查詢時表示絕對沒有故意隱瞞,只是「廉署人員在檢視有關資料時,理解送贈禮物並不包括食品,因此未有把餅食包括在內」。送食品不等於送禮?相信與一般人的認知有落差,設若廉署的說法成立,則送鮑魚、血燕、人參、冬蟲夏草等貴價「食品」、藥品,也可以不算送禮了。這樣的話,送禮價值上限還有什麼意義,行賄受賄豈非就此可以合理化、合法化?

湯顯明外訪送曲奇餅和月餅等開支,未顯示在廉署的送禮清單上,事態實際反映湯顯明的不當行為,在廉署內部得到具體配合,這些人箇中擔當了什麼角色、起了什麼作用,值得查究。所以,湯顯明的不當行為,個人因素是主要的,不過,也涉及廉署內部財務安排和組織結構的一面,要從這樣的認知才可以找出事件真相,也才可以對症下藥,重建廉署的形象。

廉政專員白韞六雖然表示以大公無私的原則處理此事,但是他現在就認定「同事按規定辦事,沒有不誠實」的結論,可能下得太早了。因為單就「食品」並非禮物等詭辯,不能算是誠實交代。

我們指出這一點,目的在提醒白韞六專員,要看清楚事態真相,切勿參與掩飾、包庇的操作,因為「廉政門」反映廉署禮崩樂壞的情况十分嚴重,腐敗力量會竭盡所能,鑽程序、規定的空子以求自保。若這些人的詭計得逞,則腐敗因子就會內置在廉署的體質,侵蝕其肌體,廉署原來的精神面貌不可能恢復舊觀。這是香港廉政、廉潔處於轉捩點的關鍵時刻,期望白韞六提高警覺,不要淹死在廉署的醬缸裏,要竭盡所能,為守護香港的廉潔核心價值開創一番新局面。

■Glossary

bribery﹕the giving or taking of bribes

by the book﹕following rules and instructions in a very strict way

pathogen﹕something that causes disease

vigilant﹕very careful to notice any signs of danger or trouble

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