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LCQ13: Government remains vigilant to fortify the culture of integrity in the civil service

Following is a question by the Hon Li Fung Ying and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Miss Denise Yue, on the Government's vigilance to fortify the culture of integrity in the civil service in the Legislative Council today (February 8):

Question:

It has been reported that in the first 11 months of 2005, there was a substantial increase, by more than 25 per cent, compared to the same period in 2004, in the number of cases in which the Independent Commission Against Corruption suggested that the government departments concerned should take disciplinary or administrative actions against civil servants who had been involved in corruption reports. Among such cases, those involving association with undesirable elements were particularly serious, as their number had increased substantially from three to 32. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  of the respective numbers of civil servants who were subject to disciplinary or administrative actions over the past three years, broken down by department and nature of case; and among such civil servants, the number of those who had lodged appeals and the results of such appeals;

(b)  of the details about the existing guidelines and monitoring mechanisms formulated by various government departments against civil servants associating with undesirable elements;

(c)  whether it has examined the reasons for the substantial increase in the number of such cases; and whether it will re-examine and assess if the existing guidelines are clear enough regarding civil servants who had operational need to associate with undesirable elements; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that and how it can prevent the unclear guidelines from imposing additional psychological burden on civil servants and affecting their performance; and

(d)  of the measures to prevent the continuous increase in the number of such cases?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Administration is committed to upholding high standards of conduct and probity in the civil service. Over the years, the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have been working closely with bureaux/departments to entrench a culture of integrity in the civil service. 

In 2005, ICAC received 1,161 corruption reports against civil servants, relative to 1,286 cases in 2004 and 1,541 cases in 2003. In 2005, 25 civil servants were prosecuted for corruption and related offences. The corresponding figures for 2004 and 2003 were 38 and 50 respectively.

In some of the cases, ICAC's investigations might reveal evidence of suspected misconduct/malpractice. On the advice of its Operations Review Committee, ICAC would refer these cases to the relevant bureaux/departments for consideration of disciplinary or administrative action (these cases are hereinafter referred to as "ORC referrals"). If subsequent departmental investigations yield evidence to substantiate disciplinary charges against an officer, the concerned bureaux/departments would initiate disciplinary action. In addition, bureaux and departments would act on any management loopholes that the ORC referrals might reveal, in the interest of minimising opportunities for corruption and malpractice.

For the year of 2005 as a whole, ICAC has recently advised that the number of ORC referrals was 170, relative to 161 referrals in 2004 and 234 referrals in 2003. Annex A gives further details about the ORC referrals made in the past three years, broken down by the nature of the allegations made against civil servants. 

With regard to part (a) of the question, in the three years ending 2005, 565 officers were named in cases referred by ICAC to bureaux/departments for consideration of disciplinary or administrative action. At the end of 2005, departmental investigations regarding 334 officers were completed. Out of the completed cases, 169 did not yield adverse findings that warrant disciplinary/administrative action. The remaining 165 officers either received disciplinary punishments ranging from verbal/written warning to dismissal, or received advisory letters, or were subject to other administrative action. Annex B gives further details about these 165 cases, broken down by department and the nature of the misconduct. Ten officers lodged appeals under the relevant provisions of either the Public Service (Administration) Order or the disciplined services legislation, or by way of judicial review against the disciplinary action taken. Of the ten appeals, six have been rejected, three allowed, and one is being dealt with.

With regard to part (b) of the question, service-wide guidelines have been promulgated to set out the standard of behaviour expected of civil servants at all levels. For instance, in the "Civil Servants' Guide to Good Practices", a booklet that is distributed to every civil servant, "honesty and integrity" have been highlighted as one of the core values that all civil servants are expected to share and uphold.

As officers in certain departments (notably the disciplined services) are particularly vulnerable to accusations of association with undesirable elements, owing to the nature of their work, these departments have issued detailed departmental guidelines to help officers avoid and guard against undesirable association.

In the Police Force, for instance, officers who are filling or about to transfer to posts considered more susceptible to exposure to accusations of association with undesirable elements will receive a specific briefing on the dangers of undesirable association. The Police Force also closely monitors the number of undesirable association cases involving police officers and develops, in conjunction with ICAC, strategies to address any problems arising. Similarly, in the Correctional Services Department, officers are prohibited from associating with undesirable characters or visiting places of poor or doubtful reputation except in the course of duty. They are also reminded to be cautious even when engaged in casual encounter if they have reason to suspect that the other party is an undesirable character, and in no circumstances should they allow themselves to be drawn into a situation where their official status or duty may be compromised.

With regard to parts (c) and (d) of the question, of the ORC referrals made in 2003 to 2005, 66 cases involved suspected association with undesirable elements (please see Annex A). The Police Force accounts for 65 of these cases. We believe this has much to do with the nature of police work which renders Police officers particularly susceptible to accusations of association with undesirable elements.

Through the Force Anti-Corruption Strategy Steering Committee on which ICAC is represented, the Police Force has been working closely with ICAC in developing and maintaining a sustainable strategy to minimise opportunities for corruption and reduce corruption influences. The Police Force has disseminated clear guidelines against undesirable association, in keeping with its commitment to maintaining a high standard of integrity and conduct amongst its staff. In addition, there is an established system of regular staff briefings on the dangers of undesirable association. Officers who are in doubt are encouraged to seek guidance from their supervisors.

Police Force management has a zero tolerance policy towards staff who knowingly associate with criminals, triad personalities and persons of doubtful or undesirable reputation, other than in the course of duty. This is well-understood amongst Police officers. Police Force management has also spared no efforts in inculcating good values among staff with a view to maintaining a clean and honest Police Force. Efforts made range from an on-going healthy lifestyle campaign, through the launching of  "Living-the-Values" workshops, to the commissioning of corruption prevention studies and the promulgation of administrative instructions on areas calling for attention.

At the service-wide level, CSB strives to ensure that all ORC referrals, including cases involving undesirable association, are properly acted upon. Quarterly returns are called to monitor the progress of actions taken by bureaux/departments in individual cases. The outcome of completed cases is copied to ICAC for the information of the Operations Review Committee.

We fully appreciate the public's expectations for a clean and honest civil service. Taken together, the statistics referred to in the above paragraphs suggest that the overall ethical climate in the civil service remains stable over the past few years. But there is of course no room for complacency. We will remain vigilant and continue to work closely with ICAC and bureaux/departments to fortify the culture of integrity in the civil service. We will continue to pursue a three-pronged approach, namely, prevention, education and sanction. ICAC will continue to conduct assignment studies from time to time to ensure that checks and balances put in to minimise opportunities for corruption and malpractice remain adequate and relevant in present-day circumstances. We will ensure clear policies and guidelines are made available to provide guidance to individual officers whilst sustained efforts are made (through induction training, seminars, and workshops etc.) to promote good standards of conduct at all levels in the civil service. We will ensure disciplinary action is taken promptly (with punishments of sufficient deterrence meted out) against civil servants found guilty of misconduct. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

 

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