Make city anti-corruption capital of the whole world

There does not seem to be much publicity for the upcoming International Anti-Corruption Day. On Oct 31, 2003, the United Nations General Assembly, while adopting the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), designated Dec 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day. The purpose is to raise public awareness of the nefarious effects of corruption and of the Convention’s role in combating and preventing it.

UNCAC is one of the most important UN conventions. It’s the only legally-binding universally-recognized anti-corruption instrument. The Convention’s far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to a global problem. It has four key chapters, consisting of 71 articles. First, it details the criminal offenses covering a wide range of categories of corruption which each signatory member must include in their domestic law. Second, it outlines the corruption enforcement, prevention and public education methodologies, all based largely on the experience of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which created its proven three-pronged strategy in 1974, directed at both the public and private sectors. Third, countries are bound by the articles of the Convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court, and to extradite offenders. Fourth, it stipulates procedures for asset recovery.

China was an active member of the Ad Hoc Convention Drafting Committee and was among the first to become a signatory party to the convention, ahead of countries like Canada and the European Union, demonstrating its strong commitment to fighting corruption.

In compliance with Article 6 of the convention that each signatory nation should have an independent anti-corruption body with adequate resources and specialized staff, China created the National Corruption Prevention Bureau in 2007, which was subsequently replaced by the all-powerful National Supervisory Commission in 2018, a truly independent commission answerable only to the National People’s Congress. Yet many Western countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and most EU countries, have so far failed to establish an independent anti-corruption agency, relying on their police to investigate corruption. Australia has only recently passed a bill in parliament to create its national anti-corruption commission with no set date for its implementation. 

Article 20 of the Convention requires signatories to establish a criminal offense on illicit enrichment, that is, any public official who shows a significant increase in their assets that cannot be explained based on their known lawful income is deemed to have committed an offense of corruption. As corruption is a secret crime, this is a very effective law to catch the “big fish” and bring them to book. Both China and its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have such legislation on their law books but most Western countries have so far failed to comply with this article, somehow betraying their reluctance to tackle offenders with political clout. Indeed, China and its HKSAR can take pride in being ahead of many Western countries in complying with this Convention. 

One interesting observation is that while the Western media has criticized the HKSAR government for having a special panel of judges to hear national security cases, there are at least 27 countries which have set up special anti-corruption courts presided by judges selected for their relevant expertise. In fact, such an arrangement is permitted under Article 11 of the Convention to strengthen the integrity of the judiciary. To the best of my knowledge, none of these anti-corruption courts have conducted a trial by jury.

On the other hand, China has faithfully abided by all articles of the Convention on international cooperation. Since General Secretary Xi Jinping assumed Party leadership in the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and declared war on corruption, China has succeeded in extraditing 9,265 corruption fugitives from 120 countries, thanks to the effective extradition procedure laid down in Article 44 of the Convention, even though some of these countries do not have formal extradition treaties with China. Similarly, with the aid of the asset recovery provision in Article 53-57 of the Convention, China has so far recovered 36.681 billion yuan ($5.26 billion) in corruption proceeds, much of it from overseas.

Accordingly, China has adopted a leadership role in campaigning for greater international cooperation under the Convention. It proposed the setting up of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA) in 2006 and China’s Procurator General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate was elected its founding president. It now boasts 140 members. China also led the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to sign the Beijing Anti-Corruption Declaration; the G20 to sign the Action Against Corruption Fugitive and Money Laundering, and subsequently the setting up of a G20 Research Center in Beijing. Recently, China also led the BRICS group of five leading developing economies to pass a “BRICS Anti-Corruption Ministerial Communiqué 2022”. China has demonstrated that with a strong leader such as President Xi at the helm, and a strong political will, any country mired in corruption can overcome the problem. 

Looking back, China has much to be proud of on this day which will also see Shenzhen launching its Anti-bribery Management International Best Practice Forum to which all corruption mitigation managers, anti-corruption enforcers and public education officials are welcome.   

Equally, Hong Kong has much to celebrate on this International Anti-Corruption Day. We are highly regarded universally as a successful model in turning one of the most corrupt places on earth in the 1970s to one of the cleanest places to do business in. ICAC’s disused old slogan of “The competitive advantage of Hong Kong is the ICAC” should be dusted off and given new life in view of its modern relevance. 

In recognition of its success, Hong Kong ICAC was this year elected as the new president of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA).

The world today faces its greatest challenges in many generations – challenges which threaten social and economic development, and the rule of law. The plague of corruption is intertwined in most of them and has resulted in worsening poverty, and law and order. As the UN website stated, the 2022 International Anti-Corruption Day seeks to highlight the crucial link between anti-corruption and peace, security and development. At its core is the notion that tackling this crime is the right and responsibility of everyone, and that only through cooperation and the involvement of each and every person and institution can we overcome the negative impact of this pervasive crime. States, government officials, civil servants, law enforcement officers, media representatives, the private sector, civil society, academia, the public and youth alike all have a role to play in uniting the world against corruption.

Hong Kong ICAC’s presidency of IAACA is expected to live up to the true spirit of International Anti-corruption Day by uniting all stakeholders of the world to fight this scourge and make HKSAR the anti-corruption capital of the world.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and Council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He retired from the ICAC as its deputy commissioner and is now an international anti-corruption consultant. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.