ICAC has always believed that investigation alone cannot solve the problem of corruption. Its strategy is three-pronged, consisting of investigation, prevention, and community education. In early years, education focused on the basic requirements to avoid corrupt behavior. More recently, however, ICAC has placed increased emphasis on providing corruption prevention educational services to private industries.
Cooperating with professional bodies
Patricia Lui, Deputy Programme Coordinator of the business sector in ICAC's Community Relations Department, views the cooperation of professional bodies with ICAC as a crucial step in preventing corruption in the private sector. "In the private sector, things are not always black and white," says Ms. Lui. "A whole range of grey areas" exists, she says, in which one small move by a professional may make the difference between legal and illegal activity. Ethics then come into play, and the level of knowledge on the part of the practitioner becomes pivotal.
To promote business ethics on a long-term basis, the ICAC set up the Ethics Development Centre (EDC) in 1995. Since then, the ICAC has cooperated with several professional bodies, including the Hong Kong Society of Accountants, the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, and the Hong Kong Institute of Architects to organize corruption prevention seminars for its members as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses.
ICAC's education programs recently penetrated the securities and futures and insurance industries. Since April 2001, ICAC has conducted Continuing Professional Training (CPT) seminars for individual securities companies and associations in the financial and securities sector. The ICAC seminar is also recognized as one of the core courses in the CPD Program for insurance intermediaries. ICAC has since arranged more than 130 talks for insurance companies, reaching more than 16,000 practitioners in the industry.
Ms Lui calls the developments in these sectors "a milestone." That practitioners in these fields are required to earn CPT and CPD credits indicates that "regulators see it as necessary to enhance professional standards," says Ms Lui. And the inclusion of ICAC seminars in these training programs proves that ICAC's corruption prevention message has been widely accepted, she says.
ICAC has several task forces, which work exclusively on tailor-making their educational seminars. Ms Lui stresses that in fashioning courses, ICAC always takes "the approach of partnership:" they invite practitioners in the fields to brief the task forces on all aspects of the industry, from daily operations to the latest market developments. By working closely with practitioners in the field, ICAC can provide each industry with a thorough briefing on anti-corruption, says Ms Lui.
ICAC strives to keep their courses interactive, practical, and entertaining. A regular training program for frontline staff covers the legal requirements, the importance of observing the company code of conduct, and the skills required for handling ethical dilemmas. Scenarios based on past cases are then explored to illustrate actual situations where ethics come into question. According to Ms Lui, feedback from the seminars has been positive.
Management of companies report that the courses "really help them to take a serious look at the vulnerable areas in their own practice... Even though it may not be possible to find solutions on the spot, they are better able to pinpoint the problems, go back to their offices, and then find a solution."
The way forward
While Ms Lui is enthusiastic about the wide acceptance gained by ICAC's programs within the private sector, she hopes to gain further support by arranging more seminars and trade-wide conferences, providing services such as staff training, producing user-friendly industry-specific ethics guides, and continuing to convince companies of the importance of prevention.
In the current economic climate, points out Ms Lui, companies cannot afford to be liable for corrupt activity. The best way to prevent malpractice, corruption or illegal activity, she says, is for both management and individual practitioners to have the tools to maintain the highest professional standards.
How to benefit?
- ICAC's preventive education services are available equally to listed companies, large private companies, trade associations, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Interested companies should contact any of the eight ICAC Regional Offices by phone, mail, or in person to arrange for tailor-made educational services. Just browse the www.icac.org.hk website for telephone numbers and addresses. ICAC pledges to respond to inquiries within 2 working days.
- Companies may consider grouping participants of similar rank (e.g. management) in one course so that the content is focused specifically toward common concerns of participants.
- Upon request, ICAC will work with the company to design a suitable educational program.