Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption(ICAC)

What are the indicators of good governance?Most of us will agree that  the first indicator  is the elimination of corruption in all wings of  government.The UN Economic and Social  Commission  for Asia  and the Pacific(UNESCAP) has observed  that good governance has eight major characteristics as follows.
1.Participation.
2.Rule of law.
3.Transparency.
4.Responsiveness.
5.Consensus Orientation .
6.Equity and Inclusiveness.
7.Effectiveness and Efficiency .
8.Accountability.
The Lord Nolan Committee on Standards  in Public life in the United Kingdom  made its recommendations in 1995 and  these were commended by the Supreme Court of India in the judgement in  the case  Vineet Narain v. Union of India .The Committee enunciated  the following seven principles of public life :
1.Selflessness.
2.Integrity.
3.Objectivity.
4,Accountability.
5.Openness.
6.Honesty.
7.Leadership.
Every holder of public office is expected to have theses qualities.But despite commendation from the Supreme Court of India , corruption seems to be on increase in India.It has been pointed out that low risk  of detection and punishment of acts of corruption  in Asia is one of the major causes for rampant corruption ."A civil servant committing corrupt offence  in Hong Kong was 35 times more likely to be detected and punished than his counterpart in the Phillipines." writes S T Quah in "Curbing Asian Corruption:An Impossible Dream".
Transparency international's 2010 report  ranks Hong Kong at 13, with a score of 8.4 out of 10, above all other Asian Countries  but Singapore.
The book "Corruption and Human Rights in India . . Comparative Perspectives on Transparency and Good Governance" by C.Raj Kumar , published by Oxford University Press , in 2011 highlights , among other things , the case of  Hong Kong in achieving ultimate success against corruption.While one may  not agree with the legal approach , suggested by the author , to fight corruption, I am impressed by his very thorough and useful  comparative references  and analysis  of   the steps taken by other countries to win the war against corruption .
The Independent Commission Against Corruption(ICAC) of the Hong Kong(website www.icac.org.hk)  was set up in 1974.It is now 37 years old and has turned Hong Kong from a highly corrupt city to one of the cleanest cities in the world.How was this miracle achieved? Are there lessons to be learned  for India?
Ever since its inception ,the ICAC has adopted three pronged approach  in fighting corruption, namely operations,Corruption Prevention and Community Relations .Accordingly , it has three  departments , Operations Department, Corruption Prevention Department and Community Relations Department.
Operations Department:
It is the investigative arm of the ICAC and is the largest department within the Commission.The elements of its  strategy include proactive investigation ,effective use of advanced technology including IT, mutual assistance and international liaison.For proactive investigation , following means are deployed:
1.Maintaining extensive contacts  in the public and private sectors.
2.Using  information technology to obtain and analyse criminal intelligence.
3.Deploying informants and undercover agents .
Mutual assistance is achieved through constitution of  operational liaison  groups  of the ICAC with police force , customs and excise, immigration services  and other departments.
International liaison is achieved through exchange of information , visits and training with foreign countries.
For advanced technology and specialisation , suspects'interviews are tape recorded and video recorded..Electronic data is collected , analysed and presented as admissible evidence in the courts.Specialised financial skills are imparted  to trail corrupt payments.
Every complaint is  treated in the strictest confidence.It is an offence to warn a suspect directly or indirectly that he or she has come under investigation.
Operations Review Committee is the sole authority to terminate an investigation , in case there is insufficient evidence for prosecution .The authority to prosecute rests with the Secretary for Justice.
Corruption Prevention Department:
The department has three types of  groups:
1.Assignment  groups  for government departments and public bodies.
2.Advisory services group for private sector and public bodies .
3.Management group for administrative support for Advisory Committee, strategy setting, knowledge management and trend analysis.

This department examines , and secure revision of the practices and procedures of government departments and public bodies if these are found conducive to corruption .Advises free of cost ,  on request private organisations and individuals on how to prevent corruption .The department reports to the Corruption Prevention Advisory Committee that monitors its work .The department also provides advice on  formulation of policies, drafting of legislative proposals, and awarding of major tenders.It also holds workshops and conferences  for the staff of public sector organisations for prevention of corruption .
The department , through various Assignment Groups, conducts studies  of major  public functions in Government departments and public bodies such as :
1.Law enforcement.
2.Licensing and regulatory system.
3.Procurement.
4.Contract administration.
5.Staff management.
6.Public works .
7.Civil service integrity.
8.Disciplined services.
9.Education , health and welfare.
10.Elections.
11.Municipal services.
12.Purchasing and tendering .
13.Construction and capital works.
14.Planning , environment and lands.
15.Service contracts.
16.Public private partnerships.
Advisory services group of the Department , for private sector and public bodies covers:
1.Banking and securities.
2.Building management.
3.Insurance and mandatory provident fund .
4.Real estate agents .


Community Relation Department:
This department educates the public and enlists its support in the fight against corruption.It is done through mass media programmes , talks , seminars, integrity promotion projects within public bodies.It also maintains liaison with business organisations and professional bodies to promote business ethics and corruption prevention .
There are a few lessons to be learnt by us in India ,  from the ICAC model of Hong Kong .
1.The ICAC is a single agency responsible in Hong Kong for eliminating corruption in government departments and public bodies .In India , we have too many agencies , with a diffused sense of responsibility .At the state level , we have anti-corruption wing under the home department .We have vigilance organisation under Vigilance department .We have State Vigilance Commission , which is nearly defunct .We have Lokayukta under a separate Act .Similarly, at the Union level , we have CVC and  CBI .It seems that a single agency/Commission against corruption , totally independent from the executive branch of the Government , is a better and more effective organisation  for India and its States.
2.The department of operations under ICAC in Hong Kong , meant to investigate  allegations or complaints of corruption , is separate from police and law enforcement agencies."In India,the pool of officers who are drawn for anti corruption work are people who, either before or after their tenure in this work, will be engaged in policing .It is important to develop a dedicated civil service mechanism with officers who will be  trained and vested  with the responsibility of  fighting corruption.This is critical for the success of the institution ."
3.The Right to Information Act , 2005 enhances transparency and accountability in the government departments and public bodies in India , but it can , at times obstruct investigation into serious cases of corruption .In Hong Kong , the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance makes it an offence for anyone  to warn a suspect directly and indirectly that he has come under investigation .In fact, section 30 of the Ordinance  prohibits  unauthorised disclosure of  investigation details.Any premature disclosure of information  jeopardises the investigation and affects the reputation of the person who is the subject of complaint.India needs to make similar statutory provisions.
4.To reduce the opportunities for corruption in Government departments and public bodies and to advise private sector organisations on corruption prevention , the independent Commission against corruption must have a Corruption Prevention Department, like in Hong Kong.
5.Community education and community relations department has an essential role in the independent Commission against corruption in Hong Kong .We need to have similar department in India.