Hong Kong new model in battling corruption Cleaning up city's graft-happy culture yields expertise on catching crooks
Hong Kong new model in battling corruption
Cleaning up city's graft-happy culture yields expertise on catching crooks
HONG KONG -- In the 1970s, Hong Kong was so shameless in its culture of corruption that firefighters would demand "tea money" at a fire scene before making any efforts to extinguish the blaze.
Hospital aides would ask for unofficial payment from patients before giving them a glass of water. Policemen would extort protection money from merchants.
But after a concerted effort to clean up the city, Hong Kong has emerged as a model for anti-graft efforts. Its aggressive and relentless tactics -- featuring hidden cameras and undercover agents -- have made it a world leader, and now it has launched the world's first university program in anti-corruption techniques.
At a recent graduation ceremony at Hong Kong University, an RCMP liaison officer stood shoulder-to-shoulder with government officials from Africa and Asia, belting out a song in Swahili about the need to fight bribery and embezzlement. "Let's eradicate corruption," they shouted.
The 18 students from seven countries, including Canada, were the first graduating class in the anti-corruption course. At a time when leaders such as Prime Minister Jean Chretien are urging Third World countries to battle corruption, the Hong Kong program is teaching police aggressive new tactics for entrapping and catching corrupt officials even before a complaint is filed. Its teachers say the tactics are as applicable to Canada as they are to Africa or Asia.
Hong Kong's expertise is hard-won. In the 1970s, it ranked among the world's most notoriously corrupt cities. "Everyone knew everyone was on the take," recalled Harold Traver, a sociologist who helps teach the anti-corruption course. "At Immigration, if you wanted a visa quicker, you could slip a $100 bill to speed things up."
Public outrage reached a peak in 1973, when the chief police superintendent fled Hong Kong under suspicion of corruption. He was eventually arrested in Britain, deported and sentenced to four years in jail. The public anger led to the creation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
With the commission celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, Hong Kong hopes to become the global centre for corruption stuThe anti-corruption commission is famed for spectacular feats of entrapment and investigation that have inspired movies and television shows in Hong Kong. With hidden cameras and undercover agents, it has gathered dramatic evidence to prosecute a wide range of people.
A group of jockeys was charged with race-fixing. Staff at a crematorium were charged with stealing personal items from coffins. An immigration official from Sierra Leone was arrested in his luxury hotel room as he tried to sell diplomatic passports to an undercover agent. A reporter at a popular tabloid was prosecuted for offering bribes to a police officer in exchange for crime information. The father of a famous pop star, a housing official, was arrested after a secret camera in his office ceiling caught him counting wads of bank notes on more than 10 occasions.
"While other anti-corruption agencies normally take a passive role, only commencing an investigation when there are complaints, we take a proactive approach by trying to unearth corruption in both the public and business sectors," said Tony Kwok, former deputy commissioner of the anti-corruption agency, who heads the new university program.
"We turned from a very corrupt place to a clean place. The proactive approach is still lacking even in developed countries such as Canada. When cases come up, they will follow them, but in Hong Kong we uncover a lot more corruption cases."
By Geoffrey York and Joanne Lee-Young Tuesday, December 9, 2003