Hong Kong’s anti-graft watchdog the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) received a total of 2,264 corruption complaints in 2021, an 18 per cent increase compared to the year before. It also recorded a number of grievances related to elections, including those related to people calling on others to cast “blank votes.”

ICAC Simon Peh
Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Simon Peh at a press briefing on May 4, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a press conference on Wednesday, ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh said the rise in complaints mostly concerned the private sector, because of increased economic activities in the second half of 2021 as the pandemic eased.

The private sector accounted for 1,482 complaints, or almost two-thirds of those received. The building management, construction industry and finance and insurance sectors attracted the most complaints.

Made with Flourish

Government departments and public bodies, meanwhile, received 645 and 137 complaints respectively in 2021. Regarding government departments, the police received the most with 150 complaints, despite recording a drop of 13 per cent from the previous year.

Government departments20202021Percentage change
Hong Kong Police Force173150– 13%
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department96117+ 22%
Housing Department3740+ 8%
Government departments attracting most corruption complaints. Source: Independent Commission Against Corruption
Public bodies20202021Percentage change
Hospital Authority3433– 3%
District Council2612– 54%
MTR Corporation Limited138– 38%
Public bodies attracting most corruption complaints. Source: Independent Commission Against Corruption

Peh said the watchdog would provide more training and education initiatives for both public and private sectors to prevent corruption.

Election-related complaints

The ICAC also recorded eight grievances regarding the Election Committee Subsector Elections last year, of which seven were pursuable. Of the 52 complaints for last year’s Legislative Council election, 48 were pursuable.

2021 LegCo Election: A polling station in Taikoo.
A polling station for the LegCo elections in 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Peh did not say how many were related to people calling on others to cast “blank votes,” but he said that authorities have arrested 10 people for inciting others to cast invalid votes in elections, three of whom have been convicted. Seven others are wanted, he added.

According to previous press releases, those wanted by the watchdog included Sunny Cheung, a pro-democracy activist who fled to the US, and former district councillor Timothy Lee, who is in self-exile in the UK.

Peh was asked to respond to claims that the anti-graft watchdog made political prosecutions, such as the one against pro-democracy legal scholar Benny Tai. Tai last month pleaded guilty to incurring illegal election expenses by placing newspaper advertisements in the run-up to the 2016 LegCo polls.

“The particular case was not related to the national security law. It was related to the elections. The work the ICAC does is different from that done by the national security police. The two shall not be confused,” said Peh.

Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Headquarters in North Point. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Peh also rebuffed what he called “unreasonable criticisms against Hong Kong’s rule of law made by Western countries,” saying that the city was seen to have low levels of corruption according to international indices.

Peh’s tenure as ICAC commissioner will end on June 30, but he refused to disclose his next step when asked by reporters. He has held the position for 10 years.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.