"Corruption and governance" draws expert scrutiny

Shiona Mackenzie

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Lively dialectics about “Corruption, Good Governance and the Rule of Law” were manifested on 18 February in the School of Law (SLW) Conference Room at City University of Hong Kong.

A new forum, in which academics, practitioners and public policy specialists from a variety of disciplines come together regularly to brainstorm on issues affecting society-at-large, has been initiated by SLW. The “Round Table Discussion Series”, attracting leaders in the fields of economics, political science and law, among others, was introduced last December and its success was followed up with discussions on corruption on Friday evening.

“This Series provides a channel for promoting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research,” Mr C Raj Kumar, Lecturer and Deputy Director, WTO Law & Dispute Resolution Centre, SLW observed, “by bringing people together to exchange views on topics that reach beyond the exclusive jurisdiction of any one discipline.” The Discussion Series maximizes the intellectual capital of the SLW and helps CityU continue to develop itself as a leading contributor to the community as well as to the greater body of knowledge.

A Chinese proverb says: Jade is useless before it is processed... Acknowledging the issue of corruption and good governance as extremely important in a global sense and Hong Kong’s ranking by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt societies in the world, the discussants concurred that Hong Kong must continue providing leadership in anti-corruption initiatives. In his welcome, the Chairman of the Round Table Discussion, Professor Peter Malanczuk, SLW Dean and Chair Professor, noted the high calibre of the discussants, who ranged from professors of Applied Social Studies, Law, and Economics to members of Hong Kong’s Department of Justice and the Independent Commission against Corruption  (ICAC). Specialists in their own particular subjects all seemed to appreciate the opportunity to broaden their outlook on an issue that cuts across several disciplines.

Brainstorming answers to global questions
“Corruption is not only a problem of rich and developed countries, but of the developing world as well, where it deepens poverty and undermines confidence in democracy,” remarked Professor Hans de Doelder, commencing the Discussion. Professor Doelder is Programme Director of the Erasmus LLM Programme in Transnational Crime and Law Enforcement of the School of Law at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and President of the Dutch chapter of Transparency International. “‘Integrity’, ‘honesty’ and ‘responsibility’ are the key words, and education is an invaluable tool for influencing society and culture for the better,” he said.

Ms Rita Liaw, Executive Director of the ICAC’s Hong Kong Ethics Development Centre, pointed out that prevention is preferable to remedial measures. “The ICAC started in 1974 to change Hong Kong culture in response to public outcry. Today, the Hong Kong Ethics Development Centre is a vital source of anti-corruption education from kindergarten on up. We consider tertiary students as future professionals, and rather than lecture at them, we provide case studies. The ICAC fights corruption without fear or favour,” she said, “and no one is above the law.” Professor Malanczuk recognized the ICAC as “one of the strongest anti-corruption bodies in the world.”

The notion of a “gift-giving culture” was evoked and Indonesia was cited as an example, in sharp contrast against the culture of Hong Kong, where public officials may not accept ‘wining and dining’ nor gifts—not  even a wedding present—without official permission.

“A ‘reciprocity culture’,” Mr Alain Sham, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions in the Hong Kong SAR’s Department of Justice, said, “such as that of Indonesia, encourages corruption, which is to say the environment is unfavourable to the control of corruption... There cannot be good, clean governance with a corrupt civil society; therefore we must have civic support and a global approach.”

“As one trained in economics, I can’t say that education is the best solution,” stated Dr Pak Hung Mo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at Hong Kong Baptist University. “From my point of view, the source of corruption is a matter of cost and benefits; however, education can ameliorate the situation once the proper environment is in place.”

“Are we motivated by self-interest, or is it all in our genes?” Professor Malanczuk quipped to hearty laughter.

“Corruption is a ‘bad’ thing in my book,” Dr Mo continued, “but how to control corruption is, I believe, the fundamental question. The most direct way to counter corruption is to ensure that benefits go to the clean society.”

Bringing their unique backgrounds to the table enabled the academics and practitioners involved an even more comprehensive grasp of the context and purport of the topic. Other Round Table Discussion members were: Dr Simon Fan, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Lingnan University; Mr; Dr Priscilla Leung, Associate Professor and Associate Dean (External Affairs), SLW;  Dr Tit Wing Lo, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Social Studies, CityU; Dr Joost Steevens, Managing Director, School of Law, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Mr Paul Verloop, Associate Professor, School of Law, Erasmus University of Rotterdam; and Dr Xingzhong Yu, Assistant Professor of Law, Department of Government and Public Administration, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Whether it is the SLW’s Round Table Discussion Series, Eminent Speakers Lecture Series, or large-scale international conferences, the School’s Dean, Professor Malanczuk is mindful of the role of tertiary education as an instrument for examining major questions and controversies of our times. “A vibrant intellectual atmosphere is unfurling here, in which serious research work can be done,” he said.


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