The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on August 21 searched the premises of Christian Zheng Sheng College and the homes of the college's supervisor Jacob Lam Hay-sing and principal Chan Siu-cheuk.
This sudden turn of events caught the community by surprise, since it marked the first time a law-enforcement agency had intervened in the affairs of Zheng Sheng.
Some news reports speculated that the ICAC was acting on complaints concerning possible corruption at the college. Some said the commission had placed the institution under scrutiny prior to receiving any complaints.
While society at large is watching with great concern, there appeared in a newspaper yesterday a scathing attack on the ICAC, asserting that the agency's intervention in the matter was tantamount to "character assassination".
The article characterized the ICAC as an institutional hitman and spy organization, smearing those the government does not like. The commentary went on to suggest that the commission might resort to killing, were it not illegal, in order to curry government favor.
It went on to describe ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming as "the most unpopular commissioner ever" and alleged the search operation was an abuse of power with which Tong intended to please his boss.
Was the search operation last Friday really so much out of place that it merited such a scathing attack? It is understood that the commission was seeking the college's accounting records, which were kept not only in the college buildings but also in the homes of Lam and Chan, hence the search of these places.
These searches, the article claimed, showed that the ICAC was treating the college not as a suspect but as presumptively guilty.
Common sense tells us that searching the records of an organization is not tantamount to a presumption of guilt. Searches by the agency are mandated by the governing authority as a means of gathering information in situations where there may be evidence of irregularities.
The writer also suggested that the reason nobody was arrested during the operation was ICAC had come ill-prepared and did not know what questions to ask, implying that the agency was directed from elsewhere to take action on short notice before sufficient grounds could be established.
Did the writer truly believe ICAC's seasoned interrogators, feared so much by those who are unfortunate enough to be invited to the commission to "have a cup of coffee", could not have come up with some sorts of questions to ask the duo should they be apprehended?
And if the graft buster did arrest Lam and Chan, I am sure the writer would have other things bad, maybe even worse, to say.
I also sympathize with the cause of Zheng Sheng and the dire situation it is in now. The association and its principals have the right to be presumed innocent. At the same time, it is unfair to issue a carte blanche condemnation of any agency that under lawful mandate appears to question Zheng Sheng's activities.
What evidence does the writer have other than far-fetched speculation to sustain such defamatory accusations against an institution that has made Hong Kong a city with one of the lowest corruption rates in the world?
The relatively small number of cases the commission now cracks every year is not due to a lack of motivation as the writer implies. It is because three and a half decades of anti-corruption efforts have borne fruit, because corruption and bribery are no longer rampant in this part of the world.
As to the government's role, anybody who follows the news knows the administration has been supportive of Zheng Sheng's attempt to relocate its overcrowded drug rehabilitation facility to Mui Wo.
What is the warrant for suggesting that the Zheng Sheng association has fallen into disfavor with the government? Even if the association had fallen into disfavor with the governing authorities, what grounds are there to suggest that the government would engage in harassment or even extra-legal measures against the organization?
If there is anybody making character assassination over this issue, obviously it is the writer himself.
(HK Edition 08/27/2009 page1)