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LCQ16:The Administration joins hands with ICAC in launching integrity management programmes

Following is a question by the Hon Bernard Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, in the Legislative Council meeting today (February 18):

Question:

It has been reported that between January and November 2003, the Independent Commission Against Corruption referred cases involving 223 government employees to the Secretary for the Civil Service and heads of government departments concerned for consideration of taking disciplinary or administrative actions. The figure represents a 57 per cent increase over the same period in 2002, and the number of cases involving dereliction of duty or association with undesirable elements has even more than doubled. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  how the Secretary for the Civil Service and heads of government departments have followed up the above cases, and of the actions taken against the government employees concerned; and

(b)  of the measures in place to curb government employees' dereliction of duty or association with undesirable elements?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Administration is committed to upholding a high standard of conduct and probity in the civil service.  Sustained efforts are made to inculcate an ethical culture in the civil service, through a three-pronged approach (namely, prevention, education, and sanction).  To ensure that our integrity management efforts are achieving the desired effect, we in the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) monitor the service-wide situation closely and maintain regular liaison with various stakeholders including the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

We work very closely with ICAC in the fight against corruption and malpractice.  ICAC regularly shares with us its assessment of how well the civil service is doing in this regard, and such information and observation form very useful inputs in our integrity management programmes.  We also joined hands in launching many of these integrity management programmes at the central and departmental levels. 

With the statistics released by ICAC, including those for the full year of 2003 and previous years, we are able to keep an overview of the service-wide situation.

  2000 2001 2002 2003
Number % Change over 2002
Number of corruption
reports concerning
government sector
received by ICAC
1 732 1 587 1 638 1 541 -5.9 %
Number of civil
servants prosecuted
for corruption offences
59 61 51 50 -2 %
Cases which were,
following ICAC
investigation and
on the advice of
ORC, referred to
bureaux/departments
for consideration
of disciplinary/
administrative
action (number of
officers named)
295 188 165 234 +41.8 %
 

As shown in the above figures, the "ethical climate" in the civil service as a whole has remained stable over the years and supports the independent assessment made by ICAC that the situation in the government is under control and there is no sign of the resurgence of syndicated corruption. 

We have analysed the ICAC Operations Review Committee (ORC) referrals in 2003 and found that the increase was attributable mainly to the presence of several "group cases" where a number of officers were implicated ( Annex). 

Whilst the Police Force's share of the number of corruption reports received by ICAC has dropped from 565 in 2002 to 532 in 2003, the number of ORC referrals involving Police officers has increased from 58 in 2002 to 96 in 2003.  The situation is closely monitored by Police Force Management.  It should be noted that a large number of these allegations relate to acts of misconduct or non-compliance with Police procedures rather than corruption or acts tending to suggest corruption.

Police Force Management also notes a high rate of Police referrals to ICAC: there were 41 referrals in 2002 and 39 referrals in 2003.  This reflects the Police's resolve in combating corruption and malpractice, and raises the number of ORC cases referred back to the Police for consideration of disciplinary/administrative action. 

The Administration will continue to watch out for any trends (or indications of seedlings of corruption/malpractices) which may be emerging from reports of malpractice and ORC referrals (please see Annex).  Subjects requiring attention including the incidence of cases involving "neglect of duty", "association with undesirable elements", and "misuse of authority" will be covered in our integrity management initiatives, such as the recently launched "Civil Service Integrity Entrenchment Programme".  Under the programme, an out-reach team comprising senior officers from CSB and ICAC will visit departments to assist them in taking proactive measures to prevent corruption and to promote integrity in the workplace.

I now turn to the two specific points raised in the Hon Bernard Chan's question :

(a)  upon receipt of an ORC referral, the Head of Department (HoD) would, having regard to any alleged acts of misconduct/malpractice revealed, conduct investigation with a view to deciding whether disciplinary action should be instituted.  Should sufficient evidence exist to substantiate a disciplinary charge, formal disciplinary action under the Public Service (Administration) Order - or the relevant disciplined services legislation in the case of staff of certain ranks in the disciplined services departments - would be taken against the officer.  The Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline (SCSD) of CSB works closely with departments to ensure that disciplinary actions are taken in a fair and timely fashion.  Where, following investigation, the HoD considers that the facts of the case do not warrant disciplinary action, he may, where appropriate, take administrative action ranging from counselling to the issue of an advisory letter to the officer in question.

At the end of January 2004, out of the 234 officers who were the subject of ORC referrals in 2003, departmental investigation/disciplinary action in respect of 84 (or most of the cases that were referred to departments in the first half of 2003) has been completed, and actions in respect of the rest are underway. Of the 84 officers, 32 have been awarded disciplinary punishments ranging from verbal/written warning to dismissal, and 9 officers have been issued an advisory letter.

(b)  Out of the aforesaid 234 officers, 22 and 30 were implicated in cases involving suspected "dereliction of duty" and "association with undesirable elements" respectively.

Dereliction of duty
-------------------

We take a serious view on dereliction of duty. Of the 22 officers implicated in the ORC referrals, all belong to the middle/junior ranks.  The bulk of the cases concerned alleged breaches of established work procedures by site/frontline staff, resulting in unsatisfactory supervision of works undertaken by government contractors. All the cases were followed up in accordance with the disciplinary procedures set out above.  Departmental investigation in respect of 16 officers has been completed. Of these, nine were awarded disciplinary punishments and one was issued an advisory letter.

To forestall similar breaches, we have reminded Heads of Department of the importance of taking prompt actions on questions of supervisory responsibility thrown up by disciplinary cases.  On top of the promulgation of guidelines and reminders, staff from the SCSD visited 19 departments in 2003, disseminating messages about the role expected of departmental management in tackling failure or negligence in supervision.

Association with undesirable elements
-------------------------------------

Of the 30 officers implicated in the ORC referrals, all are in the middle/junior ranks.  The ORC referrals are made up of five cases.  Departmental investigation for two has been completed with no irregularities found.  Disciplinary review in respect of the remaining three cases is in progress.

The Police Force accounts for the bulk of the ORC referrals in this category (29 out of the 30 officers implicated). The need to deter Police officers from association with undesirable characters is well recognised.  The Police Force Anti-Corruption Strategy Steering Committee, on which ICAC is represented, has stepped up initiatives in this area. It has recently launched a Force-wide training package on "conflict of interest" with particular emphasis on guarding against undesirable association. As part of its continuous review of instructions and guidelines in the area of undesirable association, Police Force Management is re-visiting the matter with a view to issuing fresh guidelines to prevent and educate Force members against such association.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

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