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Video Dialogue with the Hong Kong Independent Commission against Corruption
 
A video dialogue with the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the Bulgarian President's Office was held on May 19, 2003, sponsored by the World Bank GDLN (Global Development Learning Network). Based on the Commission’s experience the discussion focused on the expedience of the establishment of an autonomous anticorruption unit in Bulgaria. After discussing the possible arguments pro and contra the approach at two round tables, it is also important to consider the best international practices.

The ICAC was represented by Mr. Thomas Chan, Director of Corruption Prevention Department. Bulgarian participants included Professor Evgeni Tanchev, Chair of the Legal Council of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr. Plamen Kirov, Secretary on Legal Issues of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr. Boris Velchev, Deputy Chair of the Legal Council of the President, Mr. Boyko Slavchev, Councilor to the Minister of Interior, Ms. Diana Kovacheva, Director, Transparency International, Bulgarian Chapter, Dr. Maria Yordanova, Director, Law Program, Center for the Study of Democracy. Moderator of the video-conference was Mr. Dimitar Markov, Project Coordinator, Law Program, Center for the Study of Democracy.

The discussion started by introductory remarks by Mr. Boris Velchev, who explained the overall picture of the current situation in Bulgaria. He pointed out that although the size of corruption is visible and obvious, the number of convicted on corruption is very small. The lack of results was thought to have been a result of poor legislation. However, today, Bulgarian anticorruption legislation is up to the highest international standards but still convictions on corruption cases are very rare. Therefore, lack of political will is the most probable reason. Mr. Velchev also noted that corruption is closely linked to organized crime and illegal profits generated by organized groups often originated from corruption.

As declared in the pre-election campaign of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, fighting corruption is one of the major priorities of the presidential institution. After a thorough analysis, in January 2003, President Parvanov suggested that in independent commission be established with a special act, adopted by Bulgarian Parliament, which should deal with the most severe cases of corruption. The director of the commission should be appointed by Parliament. The independency of the commission should be guaranteed by the mandate of the body and the young professionals who would work for it. The right to investigate alleged cases of corruption will be within its scope of rights.

In his presentation, Mr. Chan explained the historical inevitability of establishment of an independent commission against corruption in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, when corruption was ‘a way of life’. While police should hold responsibility for corruption, policemen were very corrupt too. Thus, the Hong-Kong society gradually got upset about the government’s inability to cope with the problem and reacted in a will to set up an independent body to fight corruption.

The ICAC was established in 1974 with a special act. Its independency is guaranteed by legislation and by the Constitution. To win the battle against corruption, the ICAC, right from its inception, has adopted a unique strategy to fight graft on three fronts: Investigation; Prevention and Education. The three-pronged attack was vital to develop a new public consciousness. For it was recognized that prevention was as important as the deterrent of prosecution, and the battle against corruption could only be won by changing people's attitude towards corruption. Nowadays, Hong Kong is proud to be one of the least corrupt places in the world.

As for the structure of the ICAC, it has 1300 staff members working in three departments: an Operations Department, a Corruption Prevention Department and a Community Relations Department, each having its own duties, structure and strategy.

The annual budget of the Commission is US ,000,000,000, which is 0.3 % of the annual budget of the country. Each year the Commission presents its budget to the Parliament and appears before it to answer questions.

The Commission receives approximately 3000 complaints annually and convicts about 500 people as a result of them. According to opinion surveys, public trust in the Commission is very high, reaching 98 % of the population. "Nowadays, Mr. Chan said, we have clean and honest civil servants. It’s not that there are no corrup civil servants; it’s just that they are acting on their own, not as an organized group".

The major factors to a successful fight against corruption are: political commitment, secured trust of the society and the support of the right institutions.

As for the internal control mechanism of the Commission, Mr. Chan said that an Independent Complaints Committee was set up together with the Government, chaired by a retired senior judge, which conducts careful monitoring of the work of the ICAC officers.

Answering the question of Mr. Velchev of whether the Commission had encountered cases of corruption in the judiciary, Mr. Chan told of the scandalous case against one senior prosecutor, who had received corrupt money from the defense and was eventually convicted to 7 years in prison. "But as a whole, Mr. Chan said, Hong Kong has a much respected judiciary and such cases are exceptions."

Round table: Establishing a National Agency for Combating Corruption: Pro and Contra
Round table: National Agency for Combating Corruption: Romanian Experience
 
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