Corruption in Hong Kong had existed since the 1960s and 1970s. The people of Hong Kong had come to accept corruption in the police force, government, and businesses with resignation and silence. They had lost faith in the government to take action against changing the corruption problem. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was founded in February 1974 as an independent commission to intervene in this long-standing problem and restore public trust and support for the government. It is purposefully unaffiliated with any government or police organization in order to maintain its image and standards.
The ICAC uses a variety of tactics to build trust and awareness at the community level to fight corruption in Hong Kong. ICAC uses a hands-on, community-based approach that encourages public participation in order to gain the trust of the community and create an ethical attitude. ICAC’s work has impacted the private, public, and government sectors with its tactics:
Public engagement in reporting corruption: The organization involves the public in the process of identifying areas that are corrupt or prone to corruption. Individuals make complaints of corruption to the commission using prevention hotlines, a website, and publications that are available. When ICAC receives a complaint, the organization then interviews the person who made the report. This process creates trust between the commission and the individual because the individual can see that ICAC is taking action. As a result, it has investigated thousands of corruption reports and prosecuted hundreds of individuals for corruption.
Preventive education: ICAC reaches out to the community by creating preventative education programs in the schools, communities, businesses, and government. By reinforcing the need for each member of the community to observe anti-corruption laws through education, ICAC is able to institute a change in the public attitude, from acceptance to rejection of corruption. For example, ICAC has provided corruption prevention education to over a hundred private organizations.
Public accountability: ICAC widely publicizes its work by means of advertising, television and radio programs, and community activities. In doing so, ICAC remains open and accountable to the public, in contrast to hidden and corrupt institutions of society and government. This openness helps the ICAC to gain public confidence it its work and involvement in combatting corruption.
ICAC’s work has impacted the private, public, and government sectors and reached many communities through its preventative education programs. By increasing community trust it its own efforts, it has helped to end public complacency regarding corruption. Efforts to end corruption now have public support and the trust of communities.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
Organizations can certainly learn from ICAC’s efforts to involve the community in their anti-corruption work. Public participation can be a valuable tool for an organization in many contexts. However, it is particularly interesting how ICAC was able to overcome inherent public distrust. As an organization in Hong Kong, it was automatically suspected of corruption. Before it could actually work to combat corruption in other areas, it had to establish the community’s trust in itself. This is an important lesson for any new organization or institution. Even if the work one is doing is good, it may be difficult to convince the community of that fact. Organizations should not assume that their mission and purpose is automatically understood and accepted. Involving the community is a great way to gain and keep that trust, whether in issues of anti-corruption efforts or other work entirely.