Sir Jack Cater

Outstanding founding head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong
Click to follow

If lifting the lid on a corrupt colonial administration had been Jack Cater's only claim to fame during his 40-year stint with the Hong Kong Government, that would be a crowning achievement for a young airman posted there in days when it appeared to have a very limited future.

Where before the Pacific war Hong Kong had been a successful entrepôt trader, the United Nations embargo on trade with China during the Korean War changed all that. Hong Kong had to become a manufacturer and exporter to survive. It did so with the help of Chinese entrepreneurs and investors (local and immigrant) with spectacular success. In those years it had few friends overseas. Restrictions on its exports were imposed by most of its biggest overseas customers. "Red" China watched from across the border with sullen hostility while a flood of refugees, later dubbed Illegal Immigrants, crossed over to the security (and poverty) that Hong Kong offered.

Jack Cater, colonial administrator: born London 21 February 1922; MBE 1956, CBE 1973, KBE 1979; Founding Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption 1974-78; Chief Secretary, Hong Kong 1978-81; Hong Kong Commissioner in London 1981-84; President, Agency for Volunteer Service, Hong Kong 1982-99; deputy general manager, Guangdong Nuclear Power Joint Venture Co 1985-86; managing director, Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Co 1987-89; chairman, HG (Asia) 1992-95; married 1950 Peggy Richards (one son, two daughters); died St Martin, Guernsey 14 April 2006.

Cater was involved with this human dimension from the outset, initially heading departments in the government which ensured food supplies (notably fish, meat and vegetables) and their equitable and fair marketing (breaking the power of monopolistic wholesalers) and in building up a massive fishing fleet to serve one of the world's great seafood-eating communities.

So keen were the fishermen to take on mechanisation of their old sailing junks that they were ready to install reconditioned diesel bus engines to escape the limitations of wind and tide. Cater wanted not just an engined fleet but newly designed trawlers with refrigerated holds giving them longer days at sea. He pioneered and introduced these with the help of loans.

This involved family changes since the women and children needed homes and schools ashore, another achievement of the Cater years.

Wherever Cater moved in the ranks of government there were fresh initiatives and new ideas (not all his own), and his sponsorship of bright young local men and women ensured a steady flow of able administrators in many different fields of activity.

Cater's most memorable call to duty came in 1967 when China's cultural revolution not only engulfed the mainland under the leadership of Maoist Red Guards, but boiled over into Hong Kong, leading to demonstrations, riots and bombings for almost eight months of the year. As Defence Secretary he had charge of operations to control this outbreak, counter the propaganda and reassure the colony of its long-term viability under British administration.

While the tense aftermath caused frigid relations between Beijing, London and Hong Kong, Cater's "pacification" and his subsequent initiative to bring about reconciliation with the Chinese authorities through the official Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong (a de facto Chinese consulate) brought him much credit and the colony a highly valued rapprochement.

Hong Kong's woes, however, never came singly and the success and prosperity of the export boom of earlier years brought to a head a deeply entrenched culture of bribery at many levels of government. This Cater was determined to stamp out, despite the less than whole-hearted support of his peers. When public and media pressure mounted, however, the newly formed Independent Commission Against Corruption, one of the first to be established in Asia or, indeed, the world, set out to tackle problem at the highest level. Cater was its first and outstanding commissioner, from 1974 to 1978.

Senior expatriate police officers at the rank of chief superintendent were implicated as much as non-commissioned officers and junior officers who "ran along with the bus". Successful prosecutions, with the help of a former Special Branch officer, John Prendergast (who had made his mark against the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya), led to imprisonment of many caught up in the subsequent corruption dragnet. Not only the police force was investigated, but other government departments and the business sector as well.

This led to violent reactions by members of the police force who at one time stormed the offices of the ICAC in central Hong Kong in a bid to beat up investigators and operatives. The Governor, facing a breakdown of law and order, decreed a reluctant amnesty for past perpetrators but by this time official intolerance of corruption was firmly implanted.

Cater's objective was not merely prosecution. He set up branches within the ICAC to work on education and prevention and in this way did much to close off loopholes and wean young people away from corrupt behaviour, as well as inculcating a high degree of integrity in young administrative and executive officers in the government.

Sadly, for many of his supporters, Cater never achieved the highest rank as Governor. Foreign and Commonwealth Office insistence on appointing former diplomats to the highest office ensured he remained a loyal deputy. Yet Hong Kong in those years was served well by Sir Murray MacLehose (later Lord MacLehose of Beoch), Sir Edward Youde and Sir David Wilson (later Lord Wilson of Till- yorn), culminating in 1992 in the appointment of Chris Patten (now Lord Patten of Barnes) for its last lively five years as a colony struggling to find a higher degree of autonomy than China would tolerate.

As Chief Secretary from 1979 to 1981, however, Cater acted as Governor for short periods and took a leading part heading the quasi-government Trade Development Council, and in fostering higher education in Hong Kong.

If his talents were not given the due they deserved by the authorities in London (though he was knighted in 1979), Cater was embraced by private enterprise on various occasions who recognised his talents and ability. He was asked by Lord Kadoorie to head up the first joint venture (between his China Light & Power Co and the People's Republic) to build and operate a nuclear power station at Daya Bay, just north of Hong Kong. Today's widespread pollution of the city - and the region's ravenous demand for energy - would be a lot worse without it.

Born in 1922, the son of a London policeman, Jack Cater had put war service before a university education, and moved from Sir George Monoux's Grammar School, Walthamstow, in 1940 to fighter squadrons in the RAF, seeing that as his first priority in wartime England.

It was in this capacity he arrived in Hong Kong in 1945 when after three and a half years in internment the Hong Kong Government was little more than a skeleton force and where talented young men were welcomed. His early friends were Chinese, Eurasians and Portuguese rather than the greatly depleted, camp-weary and mostly self-concerned expatriate community. However there were notable exceptions and these became friendships for life.

Cater was married to Peggy Richards early in his career in Hong Kong. His final years were spent between Bath and Guernsey; latterly he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Robin Hutcheon