(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 14, 2001)

 

Commission report findings quite smelly

By Leo Knight

WHEN is receiving cash by a public official not corruption?  

 

Apparently when it occurs in Hong Kong by Canadian High Commission staff, according to an 11-page report by consultant Ercel Baker, recently obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information Act.  

 

The report was commissioned by Citizenship and Immigration Canada as a response to criticisms by former Foreign Service Officer Brian McAdam and documented in this space as well as other media across the country.  

 

McAdam, who has fought a lonely battle to expose the corruption prevalent in our mission in Hong Kong, documented the passing out of "little red envelopes" by wealthy tycoons, and other gifts by persons, some connected to Asian organized crime, to consular officials.  

 

That story, written by Fabian Dawson, was front-page news in the Vancouver Province and triggered howls of outrage in the House of Commons.  

 

But, alas, the Liberals were able to deflect much of the criticism, saying the matter would be investigated. And now we have the results of that investigation.  

 

Baker's report staggers under an unwieldy title: "Administrative investigation into alleged violation of the conflict of interest and post employment code by certain immigration staff at the Canadian Commission in Hong Kong." Quite a mouthful. But, speaking as someone with a great deal of experience in conducting investigations, it was nothing of the kind.  

 

In the first place, Baker never even spoke to McAdam, who raised the allegations. Imagine the police beginning an investigation and never even speaking to the complainant.  

 

The author, Baker, goes to some pain in the beginning of the report to justify why he was selected to conduct the "investigation." In the explanatory portion, he says: "I have worked with the government of the People's Republic of China since 1988 as an advisor on China's civil service reforms. In doing so, I have developed an unusual knowledge and understanding of not only the culture, but as well, the traditions of the Chinese people."  

 

Well now, I don't know if working there for a dozen or so years makes his understanding "unusual" given that I know at least half a dozen experienced, senior police officers with an intricate understanding of Chinese culture and who actually know how to conduct an investigation. I should also add that none of them had ever worked closely with a communist government.  

 

Baker goes on to discuss the tradition of the so-called "Laiscee" packets or red envelopes. To digress for a moment, this expert didn't even spell Lai See correctly. The envelopes contain cash, the amount dependent on the recipient's position or place of importance.  

 

Baker tries to say in his report that this practice is well known and widely practised in Hong Kong.  

 

While this may be true, what he doesn't say is that it is also quite illegal in Hong Kong. Surely someone with his "unusual" knowledge advising on civil service reforms would know that.  

 

Under Chapter 201, Section 3 of Hong Kong's Prevention of Bribery Ordinance it is an offence for a public servant to accept such "gifts" and makes it punishable by a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. Guess the expert missed that.  

 

Baker attempts to justify what was going on by saying the takeover of the former British colony by China in 1997 led to many people trying to forge "friendships" with Canadian officials and Canada was seen as a desirable country should one have to flee the communists.  

 

Again, while this may be true one fails to see how this can be used as an argument for our officials to discreetly accept envelopes containing cash.  

 

Canadian guidelines require that all "gifts" valued over $35 be reported. Needless to say this did not happen in these instances. Baker's explanation? No problem, they were too busy and filing these reports had a low priority and may have been forgotten.

 

Honest. That's what he said. Here is the direct quote: "In addition, the huge numbers of local people who were applying for visas produced an environment in the office such that not all recording of instances of gift giving took place. In the context of other responsibilities, this was considered by those involved as being of much lower priority."  

 

Finally, Baker dealt with concerns of missing documentation from files. He said, "It is not unusual to find that old correspondence has been removed from files, especially when it is of an administrative nature."  

 

Not unusual for a bureaucrat to remove documents from a file? Maybe in Baker's "unusual knowledge." But in the real world, when bureaucrats remove a document it is to cover up something they would rather not see the light of day.  

 

Baker's report did nothing to remove the stink of corruption from this matter or this government. In fact, it just adds to the stench.

 

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