Fighting corruption: What works and what doesn’t

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Former Police Chief Superintendent Peter Godber on his way to court in 1975 - Photograph: South China Morning Post

Forty-five years ago, Hong Kong sent senior officers to Malaysia to seek guidance in the fight against corruption. What has happened in these two countries since then, wonders our special correspondent.

Imagine you are with your family, having dinner in your favourite restaurant. A man enters the restaurant with a knife in his hand. His shirt front is covered with blood. There is also blood on the knife. What do you do?

Your response might be, “Once over the shock, it would depend.”

“On what?” I press.

“Well…” your brain goes into gear. The scene is vivid in your mind. “First, it would depend on what he did next, and what it seemed likely he might do in the future.”

No argument there. Let’s suppose he did nothing, just stood there, looking around.

“Well,” you continue, “It could depend on … which door he came through. If he came from the kitchen it might be less worrying than if he had come in the front door. And what kind of knife it was. A kitchen knife, say. And what he was wearing. If he was dressed as a chef, coming from the kitchen, with blood on his shirt and his apron, and a welcoming smile on his face, it would be less threatening than if he was wearing a suit, in off the street, wielding a chopper, blood splattered all down his front, and a haunted expression on his face.”

“Yes,” I’d agree, “that would certainly influence what you do next.”

“It might also depend on who I was,” you add, now firmly in the role of the diner.

“Meaning?”

“Well,” you are thinking it through. “If I was a health inspector, I might wonder why he was in the restaurant with blood on his clothing; whether such lax hygiene extended to the state of the kitchen. If I was a reporter, I might see it as a possible story, so would reach for my phone for a photo. If I was a mother with a young child I might see it a possible threat, or even just something upsetting, so would reach for my child…”

I nod, agreeing. You’re right.

And in understanding that process, you understand everything there is to know about an Investigation SOP: Establish the facts that are relevant, in a way that doesn’t make the matter worse.

Now for a change of scene: From your favourite Malaysian restaurant, to Hong Kong Police Headquarters, 45 years ago. You are the Commissioner of Police. You have just received a report that a sum of money is being held in a bank in Canada, on behalf of a senior police officer. What do you do?

(What follows is fact. It is meticulously detailed in the Blair-Kerr report, available free for download and study from the internet. Anyone with even the slightest interest in anti-corruption work, should read both reports. They are as timely, instructive, and appropriate today, as they were back then. For any country.)

You are now the Commissioner of Police. What do you do on learning about this sum of money held overseas?

Your first reaction, probably, would be to ask yourself the question: “Is the sum involved, or the manner of its banking, sufficient to suggest it may be regarded as… a knife, in the earlier example?”

Your conclusion might be, “Perhaps.” Or even, “I don’t know”.

To which, in terms of Investigative SOP, would mean: “(1) Find out more,” and, “(2) Play safe, assume the worst.”

Which is precisely what The Commissioner did.

In brief:

Money overseas in the name of a senior police officer – a knife, or not? – investigation opened, officer not told, quietly transferred to Police HQ – keeping him under control, preventing potential evidence from being tampered with.

A variety of banks were approached, in confidence, and instructed to report any account in the Officer’s name: more funds discovered – so it may be a knife, and there may be blood.

Extract from the first report of the Blair-Kerr Commission of Inquiry outlining Deputy Police Commender (Kowloon District) Peter Godber’s wealth in several banks

Officer issued with a “show cause” letter, at the same time his quarters searched: evidence discovered which established further evidence against the officer – it is a knife, there is blood, evidence to justify … establishing what he’s done, what is on the other side of the door, and whether that constitutes an offence?

Investigations establish facts. By ignoring the man with the blood and the knife in the first place, the facts can never be established. And, sadly, you also fail to establish the innocence of the man with the knife. A quite possibly innocent man is tarred by inconclusive proof of even when out with our family for a meal.

Forty-five years ago, as detailed in the Blair-Kerr report, Hong Kong sent senior officers to three countries to seek help and guidance in improving its fight against corruption. One of the three was Malaysia.

In the most recent Corruption Perception Index ranking, Hong Kong – as a result of the Blair Kerr Report created the Independent Commission Against Corruption – Hong Kong was 17th, with a CPI score of 77.

Malaysia, to whom they had come to seek guidance 45 years ago, was 66th, with a CPI score of 47 (on par with Cuba).

Might the Blair Kerr recommendations, which have proved so effective in Hong Kong, be instructive and appropriate for Malaysia?

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Kam Chee Ng
25 Mar 2018 4.21pm

1960 to 1980 Hong Kong use to a very high corruption place,and Philippines and Indonesia as well,you can see how the rakyat to fight for corruption in the president also must go.What about us,still have to working hard