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How we fought corruption: Sustained anti-corruption strategy in colonial Hong Kong, an alternate perspective

Raymond Cheng

Skyline of Hong Kong (c) Tan Kian Khoon
Photo © Tan Kian Khoon

Over the years, Hong Kong has built up a clean culture and is recognized as one of the role models for fighting corruption. Syndicated and petty corruption in the public sector has become a thing of the past and irregularities in the private sector have been reduced substantially (Li, 2001). There has been a radical change in the culture too, "from tolerance of corruption to clear rejection" (Chui, 2000). In fact, some of the main reasons for Hong Kong's success include:

  1. the creation of the unimpeachable anti-corruption agency in 1974, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (the "ICAC") which was established with a well-planned long-term strategy that uses a three-pronged attack on corruption via investigation, prevention and education;
  2. the attention to all corruption reports; and
  3. the ability to maintain confidentiality (de Speville, 1999).

In addition, though compelled by public criticism, the recognition of corruption as a real problem by the then British colonial government in Hong Kong [1a] [1b] and its subsequent commitment to solving it also constituted a major factor of success (Quah, 2004). This "commitment," however, is not just one single policy or legislation, but is a whole range of various complicated administrative policies, legal initiatives, and financial tactics applied consistently and strategically over a long period of time – hence effectively creating an environment "suitable for fighting corruption."

In this section, we shall review from a new strategic viewpoint the "passive commitments" of the Hong Kong colonial government in terms of:

  1. the local economic and social statistics for a 25-year period spanning 1967 thru 1992 and
  2. the behavioral patterns and theories of people.
In addition, we shall also relate the above to see how these had possibly and indirectly contributed to make corruption a low gain and high risk crime and how these had fostered the effectiveness of the corresponding legislations and helped the work of the local anti-corruption agency. Last but not the least; we will try, through our findings, to make some recommendations for the future enhancement for the current Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) in its ever on-going combat against corruption.

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Note 1a: While many may belive that Hong Kong's success is a direct consequence of British Crown rule, the Indians could very much disagree. Following the Indian Rebellion in 1857, the period after WWI was marked by hated British rule and reforms (led by the Government of India Act 1858) but also repressive legislation, causing more Indians to call for self-rule (and hence the non-violent movement of non-cooperation and civil disobedience of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi). The Indians eventually achieved their independence in 1947 (illustration below). See also Datta, V.N. (2006). "India's Independence Pledge". In Gandhi, Kishore. India's Date with Destiny. Allied Publishers. pp.34-39. More from Wikipedia on Independence Day (India)


"Birth of India's Freedom", Times of India, dated August 15, 1947. Retrieved from http://facebook.com/somethingtoremember.str. Readers may also be interested in DNA India's article: "How British socialism created poverty and caste inequality (in India)" by columnist Arvind Kumar, dated August 13, 2012. For those who are interested in India's journey to independence, you may wish to read more on Mohandas Gandhi as well as Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, originally published in 1849.


Note 1b: See also "Colonialism and Nationalism in Southeast Asia" by Dr Constance Wilson, Northern Illinois University; as well as Wikipedia on History of Southeast Asia.