Recently, the former commissioner of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, Timothy Tong, has been accused of spending HK$724,000 of public money on questionable gifts. The South China Morning Post reports:
“The Independent Commission Against Corruption, which had stated earlier that Tong had spent HK$220,000 on gifts for official functions in his five years as commissioner, said yesterday the figure was over HK$724,000.”
This figure included the purchase of the infamous Chinese hard liquor, maotai, the signature drink of corrupt mainland government officials. The spending also often exceeded the limit of HK$450, which meant that they had to be approved by none other than the commissioner himself. This leads to an obvious conflict of interest as the commissioner was therefore approving lavish events that he himself attended.
Ming Pao reports (translated by The Real HK News):
“In fact, Tong had used public funding to entertain the officers from the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong SAR (Liaison Office) over 20 times during his tenure.”
“The ICAC illegally used two tricks to bypass the HK$450 per head per meal limit stipulated in law: splitting the bill into two separate meals, and categorising dining expenses as promotional expenses.”
Since reciprocity can be expected, we can expect Tong to have dined with the Liaison Office at least 40 times in total when there is no reason for the two bodies to interact at all. The ICAC has no jurisdiction on the mainland, and for the Liaison Office to interfere with the operations of the ICAC would be a blatant violation of the Basic Law:
“No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.” (Article 22)
It is suspected that Tong’s extension of generosity towards the mainland officials has to do with his recent appointment to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. This would be the dictionary example of corruption: using public money for personal gain. To engage in such corruption while acting as the head of the freaking anti-corruption agency is about as low as one can get. Of course, Tong denies any such personal gain. The South China Morning Post reports:
“After repeated questioning by Wong, Tong admitted that he had used public money to treat officials from Beijing’s liaison office and other mainland government departments not related to the judiciary, prosecution units or police. But he insisted it was not for his personal networking, but for work purposes.”
More disturbing than the former commissioner’s expenses is the fact that no one else in the ICAC reported the issue until now. Since the questionable expenditure approvals were all documented, it seems baffling that nobody would notice and blow the whistle. Has the corruption percolated itself throughout the entire ICAC hierarchy? Or was Tong’s personality cult so big that no one dared touch him while he was in office? Or did the pressure come from the Liaison Office itself?
This unfortunate event reminds me of a Latin phrase I first came across in Dan Brown’s “Digital Fortress”: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?
- I See A See-cret (asiahacks.com)
- ICAC Scandal – Part II: Timothy Tong Threw Over 20 Banquets for China Liaison Office (therealnewshk.wordpress.com)
- Hong Kong Lawmakers Quiz Former Anti-Corruption Agency Chief – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Chinese Corruption Spreading to Hong Kong “Like SARS & Avian Flu” (globalvoicesonline.org)
- One country, one system in Hong Kong? (Asia Times Online)