Anti graft power expansion arouses lawmakers’ concern

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Issue 651, Page 1 & 2
Word count: 789
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The  anti-graft  commission’s  plan  to extend  its  competency  to  the  private  sector has  seen  an  obstacle  at the  legislature  yesterday,  as  a  number  of lawmakers were concerned that no watchdog would be in place to prevent abuse of power. 

The general discussion on the first reading of the bill could not be completed and will continue on April 2, where afterwards lawmakers will vote whether or not the bill could be assigned to a standing committee for deliberation.

At present, the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) is only allowed to investigate and combat corruption activities in the area of public sector.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption, which has been in effect in Macau since February 12, 2006, suggests the contracting states to consider enactment of “necessary legislation in order to incriminate deliberate bribery behaviours in the process of economic, financial or commercial activities”.

According to CCAC Deputy Commissioner Tou Wai Fong at the Legislative Assembly, the importance of companies’ integrity, business ethics, and information transparency was reflected in a “more competitive and complex business environment since the liberalisation of the gaming industry and also in the recent global financial crisis”.

Hong Kong’s corruption laws for both the public and private sectors were enacted back in 1971, three years before the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Lawmaker Chui Sai Cheong and assembly president Susana Chou are among those who voiced concern about whether an oversight mechanism would come into place after CCAC has got greater power.

Chou said she recognised all the work and efforts of CCAC over the past decade, and would support it to expand its power to the private sector.

However, the assembly president also said that at the same time the competency must have to be monitored effectively, in a bid to protect suspects or witnesses’ human rights and prevent abuse of power by officials.

“I understand work transparency is hard to achieve for CCAC as a lot of information about their cases has to be kept confidential, but supervision still cannot be missed out,” Chou told the assembly.

CCAC legal advisor Wu Ka Wai said the commission had a discipline oversight committee which was to receive complaints in relations to misconduct or any wrongdoing by officers.

In addition, Wu said there was an internal investigation team which at the same time oversees officers’ disciplines.

However, the existence of the committee failed to ease lawmakers’ concern, as they pointed out that the committee did not have any authority to launch an investigation against CCAC staff.

On the other hand, Vitor Cheung Lup Kwan asked the CCAC officers how a person could define what a “gift” was in order not to break the law by receiving it.

According to the bill, it states that giving away or receiving “returns, including tips, for thanking one’s services rather than for doing something that breaches one’s duty” will not constitute a crime.

The CCAC Deputy Commissioner stressed that the major condition in deciding a corruption conviction was about the intention of taking or giving away bribes – whether the “benefits” are intended to make someone to do or not to do certain things that are against his or her job duties.

Hence, Tou said the bill did not set out at what prices giving or taking a “gift” would be deemed unlawful.

Meanwhile, Chan Chak Mo questioned the appropriateness of introducing the bill at this time, as he said that CCAC’s work in combating corruption in the public sector was not yet “greatly done”.

Chan also inquired the CCAC officers into why the penalties proposed in the bill were the same as those in the existing corruption law for the public sector.

He said that public servants should be liable to more penalties for engaging in corruption as their behaviours had a “long-term impact” and must have “jeopardised public interest”.

Tou in response said that as the maximum jail sentence for abuse of trust is at eight years, and corruption, “which is as severe as abuse of trust”, thus should bear a penalty no less than eight years.

The bill proposes a three-year imprisonment for a corruption crime which does not “harm a fair competition situation or lead to a damage of a third party’s property”.

Or otherwise, the penalty could be aggravated to eight years in maximum.

However, Leong Heng Teng and Kwan Tsui Heng supported the bill, but added that the discipline oversight committee of CCAC had “room to improve”.

Kwan said a corruption law for the private sector could help create a fair business environment and should not bring “pressure” to companies.

“It’s time for us [Macau] to make a step forward so when corruption takes place we’ll have a law to follow,” she said.

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