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USA versus colonial Hong Kong

A brief comparison of public administration, anti-corruption measures and selected historical events (resulting in major policy changes) fostering a corruption-resistant culture

Raymond Cheng

For those of you who have followed my previous articles on anti-corruption in colonial Hong Kong and on historical U.S. administrative thoughts, you will probably notice that I am an advocate of building a "corruption-resistant culture or environment". If you share with me a similar view, this brief comparison should be both interesting and, hopefully, somehow inspiring for those who are either working in the anti-corruption field or are working or advising on such policies or legislation.

Busy Downtown Street (c) Rafal Dudziec
Photo © Rafal Dudziec

Why the comparison? What are you comparing?

Strictly speaking, there is hardly one convincing reason why I should be comparing or contrasting the anti-corruption environment of the U.S. and the colonial Hong Kong. But the only reason I am doing this is because I need an answer to a question that has been haunting me for some time, and that is, "How come places like Hong Kong can be seemingly so successful (in terms of its relative high CPI [1a] ranking), efficient (in terms of 20+ years spent in promoting an anti-corruption culture since 1974) and be so effective (making corruption a high-risk, low-gain crime) in the course of combating corruption?" Nearby countries, like the Philippines (and some others in Asia and Africa), have been trying to copy what has been done in colonial Hong Kong and yet most of them did not seem to have gone this far. As I have never believed that this was just mere coincidence, I needed to come up with a brief comparison between Hong Kong and just any given western civilization having a comparable CPI ranking, similar GDP, etc., to see if they share or have walked through anything similar in their histories, especially when the types of legislation deployed to fight corruption are entirely different (because I never believe it matters), i.e. one relying on criminal procedures and the other on civil laws.

In following sections there are three tables comparing the type of public administration, anti-corruption measures and some selected [1b] historical events resulting in major policy changes that could have helped foster a corruption-resistant culture. I have to stress, meanwhile, that I am not comparing anything statistically or am I doing it in a figure-by-figure manner. What I am comparing here are just historical events correlated with bribe that accounted for major policy changes. I hope the comparison will reveal for you some insights between the U.S. (drawn from its 200+ years of socio-economic development) and the colonial Hong Kong (drawn from its fight against corruption since the establishment of the ICAC, Independent Commision Against Corruption, in 1974 to before the Handover of Hong Kong to Communist China in 1997). For the purpose of clarity, each of the three tables focuses on an area of its own, namely:

I will leave the conclusion to the reader as there is no one clear-cut answer to all these complicated questions related to corruption and bribe. However, I do hope that you will find the comparison useful and enjoyable.

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Note 1a: CPI, Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, see http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview/

Note 1b: The major historical turning points I have selected in this study are statistically based on the relative historical occurence of collocates (co-selection of words) of "bribe" within the N±5 collocation range showing correlation with major historical events (note: there will be another article on this soon to be published on this website). Meanwhile, please read my other article, "John Sinclair's lexical items", on the idea of the concept of N±5 collocation range as well as the one on "How we fought corruption: Sustained anti-corruption strategy in colonial Hong Kong, an alternate perspective." Also, as this comparison is merely a small part of my doctoral research, you may also wish to check out the "about this site" page for details of what the entire research project was all about.