Monday, August 18, 2008

Paralegal Fights Corruption in Fiji

Fiji seems like an idyllic place, full of sun, sand, and relaxation, but beneath the calm facade lurks corruption. After a successful career fighting corruption in Hong Kong, paralegal Albert Lau is now helping Fiji fight internal corruption.

Not often do people think of taking up a profession fighting corruption and promoting good governance.

For Albert Lau, making a difference in society is a passion he long established when he was growing up.

Born and bred in Hong Kong, Albert is a retired chief investigator with the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong where he worked for 31 years to control corruption and build a better nation.

He wanted to become a lot of things when he was young but along with his parents, Albert had very little opportunities.

His father was a cook while his mother was an amah both working for expatriate families and they earned only $150 a month in the 1960s.

"I attended government primary school where the fee was $5 Hong Kong currency which is equivalent to 30 times more today.

I was born after the Second World War and the country was poor. After high school, I decided to work and saved enough to pay for my own private study.

"When I was still in high school though, I had an interest in studying electronics so my first job was as a Quality Controller in an electronic factory that produced radios, amplifiers, etc."

He graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the Open College of the Macau University which was the only open university for adults in the 70s.

According to Albert, most people believed in a Chinese philosophy where a way out of poverty was to receive a good education and be well equipped. This made him even more determined to work hard and persevere in life.

Experiencing the hard life

Albert spent some time monitoring the quality of electronics produced at the factory before he joined government as a Welfare Assistant and his responsibilities were, inter alia, examine and investigate the financial situation of the applicants on whether they were eligible for financial assistance from the government and this most probably was his first insight into the life of an investigator.

He spent a year and a half before he applied for a position with ICAC Hong Kong in 1974 when the organisation was established.

"There was an advertisement where ICAC were recruiting new investigators so I applied and was assigned to the lowest rank of Assistant Investigator. Basically the organisation was set up to investigate corruption offences committed by any person and the job was mostly detective work.

"However, there are certain areas of crime being investigated apart from corruption offences like dangerous drugs, smuggling and white collar crimes, such as commercial fraud, tax evasion, illegal immigrants, which are related to corruption offences.

"It is very challenging being an investigator especially when dealing with corruption. Back in the old days in Hong Kong, corruption was widespread because at the time new comers did not know much about the law."

Life on the job

From 1974 until retirement in 2005, Albert spent 31 years working as an investigator for ICAC Hong Kong.

Climbing up the investigator ranks over the years, Albert spent most of his life leading, managing and supervising investigation teams.

He was also responsible for providing investigative training as well as offering advice. On a positive note, Albert has dedicated his working life to controlling corruption. While politicians, historians and learned individuals know the definition of corruption, it is hard to put a lid on how a corruption investigator works.

"Common sense prevails. Corruption in general is difficult to detect because there is no victim of crime especially when both parties involved are satisfied.

"Some are reluctant to give evidence. There needs to be certain kinds of internal control and we cannot afford failure.

"The duration and work of investigators depend on the complexity of the case and sometimes the most difficult can be syndicate corruption involving a lot of people.

"Investigations can be time consuming but investigators have to get evidence."

Moving on

After retirement, Albert joined a law firm in Hong Kong as a paralegal. He provides litigation supports to lawyers.

His investigative skills and experience help find evidence to support a case and if there is one word that describes Albert, it is his unending desire to see justice served and corruption controlled.

His presence at the Fiji ICAC Investigators Training Course Stage One from August 4 to 9 was aimed at enhancing the core competence as an investigator.

"I feel I need to contribute to society. I like to see a government to be a clean one where everyone can enjoy a fair field to play.

"If corruption exists, some rights of people will be intruded on. But being an investigator is a meaningful task.

"For me to share my experiences and knowledge with FICAC investigators is great. The motives behind FICAC is a great one and you can see the political willingness of the government really wants this country to be a corruption-free society." Albert is married with two children and believes family support and understanding are the backbone of his profession as a corruption fighter.

Highlighting this man's achievements is not so much a political, social or economical motive but a straightforward notion that achievement and success is possible if one is determined, steadfast and honest.

(Source: Fiji Times Online)

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