Low pay of new HK rulers sows seeds of corruption in HK

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The Independent Online

Hong Kong

General Liu Zhenwu, who assumes command of Chinese troops in Hong Kong on 1 July 1997, will be paid about a sixth as much as the humblest filing clerk in the colony's civil service.

He will receive a monthly salary of 1,200 yuan (about pounds 100), which is around one fifty-fifth of the pay of Major-General Brian Dutton, who commands the British garrison in the territory, and a tenth of that of a British army private. Gen Liu's regimental commanders will be paid around pounds 60 per month, and platoon leaders will receive half that sum.

The disparities in pay are not confined to the military. Zhou Nan, the head of the New China News Agency in Hong Kong, the Chinese government's senior official here, is believed to be paid just over HK$10,000 (pounds 850) per month. His six deputies earn about HK$8,000.

Little wonder therefore that the Chinese government is so keen to keep its troops largely confined to barracks. The temptations of the flesh, not to mention the shopping arcades and the race-track, may prove too much for these young men who are more accustomed to being surrounded by poverty similar to their own.

Similarly, the Chinese officials in the territory, who will wield immense power and influence, will be paid far less than those over whom they exercise that power. These are precisely the circumstances which breed corruption.

The Hong Kong government is acutely aware of the dangers of corruption among public servants. Its Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has powers of arrest and investigation far beyond those given to the police. It can, for example, bring a prosecution against a civil servant for living beyond his or her means without having to produce tangible evidence as to how those means were acquired.

On the other hand, Hong Kong pays its civil servants some of the highest government salaries in the world. Governor Chris Patten earns pounds 239,000 per year, plus substantial non-cash benefits - far more than John Major, who was responsible for his appointment.

This stick and carrot approach appears to work reasonably well; Hong Kong's civil service is not notably corrupt. In contrast, some Chinese state corporations who have placed mainland executives in Hong Kong offices have experienced such serious corruption problems that China has been forced to send investigatory teams toclear up the mess.