The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented it effectively. Hong Kong continues to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt. However, there were several major arrests during the year, and many observers held that corruption in general seemed to be on the rise. An ICAC spokesman said that some prominent corruption cases widely reported in the media might have affected perception of Hong Kong.
Between January 1 and September 30, there were 936 corruption reports involving government personnel concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. Of the 936 reports received, as of September 30, 378 were under investigation, 315 were nonpursuable, and 243 were unsubstantiated after investigation. During the same period, nine government personnel in nine cases were prosecuted regarding reports received in 2010 and 2011. Five were convicted, three awaited trial, and one was acquitted. Overall, corruption complaints against government departments increased by 13 percent in the first 11 months of the year compared with the same period last year, according to the ICAC.
On March 29, the ICAC arrested former chief secretary for administration Rafael Hui on charges of misconduct in public office for accepting more than HK$34 million (four million dollars) in bribes from property magnates Thomas and Raymond Kwok and two others in return for favors. At year’s end the case was continued.
In July Secretary for Development Mak Chai-kwong, in office for less than two weeks, resigned shortly before his arrest by the ICAC for abuse of government rental allowance. The ICAC also arrested Highways Department Assistant Director Tsang King-man, as well as Mak’s and Tsang’s wives for conspiracy to defraud the government of private tenancy allowances between 1985 and 1990. The two were alleged to have cheated the government of more than HK$700,000 ($90,000) by concealing their financial and proprietary interests in apartments they rented from each other’s wives. Mak also faced two counts of acting as an agent using a document with intent to deceive his principal, contrary to the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, while Tsang faced three similar charges.
The issue of unauthorized building works (UBWs) at private residences became an increasingly larger political issue during the year, with the media highlighting a number of senior government figures who had illegal structures added to their homes without going through the legal process. According to at least one newspaper, one-third of the Executive Council’s members were involved in UBW scandals, including Laura Chan, Cheung Hok-ming, and Jeffrey Lam.
Many government ministers also had UBWs added to their homes. The media highlighted that Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man knocked down an internal wall between two apartments he owned without prior permission, and his predecessor in the job, York Chow, had UBWs in his home at least until a month before leaving office in June. In another case the government’s Buildings Department had allegedly given Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So preferential treatment to carry out work to-- ironically-- remove illegal structures at his home. In August the wife of Secretary for Development Paul Chan received removal orders from the Buildings Department to eliminate UBWs in two subdivided apartments her company owned. On November 26, Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing and Duncan Pescod removed a glass canopy and an awning from a house he owned after media reports said they could be unauthorized structures. Pescod was the most senior non-Chinese official and the 11th official accused of having an illegal structure at a home in the past two years.
CE Leung won the March 25 selection process after reports of chief rival Henry Tang’s scandals over illegal structures at Tang’s home. After Leung’s victory, however, the media discovered illegal structures at Leung’s home. The ensuing uproar prompted prodemocracy CE challenger Albert Ho to file an election petition to overturn the selection results. Ho was unsuccessful, but on November 23, Leung issued a 14-page statement explaining details of and blaming a memory lapse for confusion over the illegal structures at his home. By year’s end the scandal had not ended with the most recent allegations claiming that Buildings Department staff was involved in a cover-up of Leung’s UBW.
On November 4, in a separate case involving a public figure and a non-UBW housing issue, Executive Council member Franklin Lam requested a leave of absence under mounting pressure to step down since it emerged that he put two apartments for sale just weeks before the government announced new measures to cool residential property prices. At year’s end the ICAC was investigating Lam’s actions.
Former chief executive Donald Tsang was also mired in a series of scandals about an alleged close relationship with local tycoons and alleged acceptance of entertainment and travel benefits. In May an independent commission to review the situation determined that it was “totally inappropriate” for the chief executive to be above anticorruption laws and it should be made a criminal offence if Hong Kong’s leader receives favors without approval.
During 2011 the ICAC received 4,010 corruption reports, an increase of 13 percent from 3,535 reports in 2010. Pursuable reports increased by 12 percent to 3,072. Of the reports, 2,664 concerned the private sector, 1,117 were related to government departments, and 229 involved public bodies. A total of 283 persons were prosecuted with convictions in 84 percent of the cases.
There are no legal protections for whistleblowers.
The SAR requires the 27 most senior civil service officials to declare their financial investments annually and the approximately 3,100 senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest.
There is no freedom of information legislation. An administrative code on access to information serves as the framework for the provision of information by government bureaus and departments and the ICAC. However, they may refuse to disclose information if doing so would cause or risk causing harm or prejudice in several broad areas: national security and foreign affairs (which were reserved to the central government); immigration issues; judicial and law enforcement issues; direct risks to individuals; damage to the environment; improper gain or advantage; management of the economy; management and operation of the public service; internal discussion and advice; public employment and public appointments; research, statistics, and analysis; third-party information; business affairs; premature requests; and information on which legal restrictions apply. Political inconvenience or the potential for embarrassment were not a justifiable basis for withholding information.
Through September the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau received 1,372 requests for information under the administrative code, of which 76 requests were withdrawn by requestors, and 74 requests covered cases in which the government bureau or department concerned did not hold the requested information. Of the 1,222 remaining requests, at the end of June, 1,118 requests were met in full (1,094 requests) or in part (24 requests). Of the remaining cases, 74 requests were still being processed and 30 were refused.