Sir Murray Maclehose and the end of fragrant grease
The time has come to consider the era of Hong Kong’s longest-serving, and, by general consent, greatest, Governor – Jock the Sock, aka Sir Murray MacLehose, aka Lord MacLehose of Beoch, 1971-82.
Unlike earlier Governors he is not commemorated by a road, a pier or a fireboat. He’s got a country walk named after him – the 100 kilometre long MacLehose Trail – but he’s in absolutely no danger of being forgotten.
He had the physical qualities of a good Governor – he was very fit (hence the Trail!) very tall and “of a benevolent disposition”. He was genuinely popular:
(note that he's taken his hard hat off, in order to seem slightly less tall - the chap next to him is another notable civil servant, Augustine Chui)
He created the Country Parks, through some of which his trail passes, he hugely expanded the Public Housing Programme, and upgraded the quality of housing provided, so that today 40% of the population live in public housing, he expanded compulsory education to nine years, he made Cantonese an official language, he built New Towns, like Tuen Mun and Sha Tin, he hugely increased the cultural and arts facilities in Hong Kong (they are really, really, excellent, today) with the creation of the Arts Centre, the Academy of the Performing Arts and the Arts Festival, he brought in what is recognisably a Welfare State, and he started the MTR (the Mass Transit Railway).
He also created the District Boards, in 1977, and in 1982 election to the District Boards was made by (shhh!) universal suffrage!
He also cleaned the place up – physically with zealous anti-littering campaigns and financially with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), with which you tangle at your severe peril, and which came closer than the 67 riots to bringing Hong Kong to a grinding halt!
He did not, however, put up the tax rate to do these things; he leased land for some of it and he bullied the British Government into coughing up for the rest.
Let us now consider the formation of the ICAC:
The expression "tea money" has vanished from the Hong Kong lexicon. People will not know what you mean by it. People from Vietnam, Thailand and Burma have no such difficulty, however.
It was not ever thus. "Tea money" was, and in some places still is, the small routine bribe that accompanies any transaction - the note that is folded into your driving licence or passport, the little something for the nurse in the hospital, the small present for the schoolteacher, the small consideration for a service which allows Government servants, on insanely inadequate salaries, to feed and clothe their children. It is, in Chinese societies, hard to separate tea money from the lucky money that you routinely give to any child or servant at Spring Festival, but the difference is there.
In Hong Kong from its founding until the 1970s "tea money" was almost universal; it allowed those who could dispense it correctly a level of service which those who could not never enjoyed.
At the top of the tea money pile, taking rake offs from everyone else, were the triads and the Police.
The Police who fought the rioters stuck together both thanks to the usual bonds of loyalty in a disciplined service and thanks to the less usual bond of money. English and Chinese policemen were in it together, up to their necks.
It has been estimated that from 1963 to 1973 the triads and the police, between them, took in ten billion Hong Kong dollars in tea money.
There were laws against this, of course; there had been a Corrupt Practices Ordinance since 1897.
There was, however, a problem, which you have already spotted. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? With the Police Force up to their necks in corruption, and hand in hand with the triads, you would have to be mad, or possibly suicidal, to report a corruption case to the Police.
It is very hard to find a picture of Peter Godber that does not show him with the profuse beard that he grew when he retired. This shot from the ICAC website is the best that I can manage:
Godber was a Chief Superintendent who had played a heroic part, in command of one of the Police Tactical Units, in the defeat of the 67 rioters. However, he was just a little too brazen, or maybe too careless, in remitting quite large sums of money abroad - a remittance of C$12,000 under the name of "PF Gedber" in 1971 attracted attention and the Anti-Corruption Office began an enquiry.
They proceeded slowly, but in April 1973 Chief Superintendent Godber applied for early retirement, giving the usual three months notice. This triggered an enquiry into his bank balances - there was already, in Hong Kong, an offence of being inexplicably wealthy. He was sitting on HK$4,377,248, (multiply these figures by at least ten for today's values) mostly in overseas accounts. With Godber due to retire, the Police suspended him from duty and, under Section 10 of the Anti-Bribery Ordinance, on the 4th of June he was notified of the investigation and he was given a week to explain where the money had come from. On the same day, his flat and his car were searched, and a stash of silver bars were found. Two days later, Mrs Godber flew back to England on holiday. The Chief Superintendent, however, could not leave - the Immigration Department had orders to detain him if he tried to do so by rail, sea or air.
Next day, on the seventh of June, he bought a ticket to London via Singapore, pulling out a wallet which the travel agent noticed was so stuffed with HK$500 notes that he could not fold it, got a taxi to Kai Tak airport and, by showing the pass, issued to all senior officers, which allowed him to go to the air side from the land side of the airport, crossed to the air side, where he got on a flight to Singapore, where he changed planes and flew to England, joining his wife in their retirement cottage.
There was no question of extradition because "possessing financial assets disproportionate to an official emolument" was not, and is not, a crime in England. Nobody in Hong Kong would give evidence that they had seen Godber receiving a bribe, so he could not be extradited.
Peter Godber, the most senior Hong Kong policeman ever to be charged with corruption, was home safe.
There was an explosion of rage in Hong Kong. Led by student activists, mainly from CUHK, mass protests and torchlight vigils were held, with placards demanding "END CORRUPTION - ARREST GODBER"
The Governor called for an enquiry, which was held, very fast, and it reported, recommending that anti-corruption matters should be separated from the Police Force.
Presenting the report to Legco, MacLehose said:
"I think the situation calls for an organisation, led by men of high rank and status, which can devote its whole time to the eradication of this evil. A further and conclusive argument is that public confidence is very much involved. Clearly the public would have more confidence in a unit that is entirely independent, and separated from any department of the Government, including the Police."
He set up just such a unit, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, in February 1974, staffing it initially mainly with officers from UK police forces. The Hong Kong public were initially unimpressed, nicknaming it "I Can Accept Cash".
The first task of the ICAC was to "get Godber".
This they did. There was a breakthrough - a British superintendent, Ernest Hunt, who was already in jail for corruption said that, in exchange for a reduced sentence, he would give evidence that he had seen Godber take a bribe of HK$25,000 from a Chinese superintendent to be appointed as Station Superintendent, Wanchai. That amount would have bought you a really nice flat, at the time (the HK property market was in one of its less optimistic moments). The point was - the post was "worth" at least HK$60,000 a month in tea money from the vice trade. The Chinese superintendent was arrested and he, too, sang like a canary; Godber could now be charged and extradited, as indeed he was. He went down for four years, the maximum sentence available on the one charge with which he was indicted. Peter Godber is still alive and living in Spain; most of the four million has not been recovered.
Hunt got eight months. He later told an English newspaper that he had made six million HK$ in corrupt payments whilst he was in Hong Kong and that "95%" of the Force were corrupt.
Slightly lower down the tree, things were, if anything, even "better":
These men are Hon Sum, Lui Lok, Nan Kong and Ngan Hung, the four station sergeants in charge of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Yau Ma Tei and the New Territories in the Sixties.
Hon retired in 1971, owning 49 properties in Hong Kong and two Mercedes cars, and moved to Taiwan with his wife and concubines. He died in 1999 and the ICAC have just done a deal with his family and collected HK$140 million. Lui is still in Taiwan.
The ICAC started to be taken seriously. The upshot was a riot by Police officers, who stormed the ICAC offices in October 1977, beat up ICAC staff and threatened to strike.
A partial amnesty for lower level Police corruption before 1977 had to be agreed; on that basis things settled down.
It is interesting to note that the ICAC's early case load was mainly concerned with Government corruption - today such cases are rare.