• Wed
  • Sep 3, 2014
  • Updated: 10:30am

The party bosses who rob the public

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am

Issues

No mandatory public disclosure of personal assets

Observers say the downfall of Bo Xilai shows the Communist Party has failed to curb the widespread corruption that has infected all levels of government.

Although the government has cracked down harder on cases of graft in recent years, it has made little progress in making it mandatory for public officials to disclose their personal assets.

That step is seen as a basic anti-corruption strategy. The mainland does have a disclosure system of sorts. Officials above the sub-county level report their assets to disciplinary organs. But these declarations are kept confidential.

According to regulations drafted in 1997 and amended in 2006 and 2010, officials are required to report on their personal incomes, the employment status of their children and spouses, and their property interests and investments.

In April, Premier Wen Jiabao wrote in the Communist Party magazine Seeking Truth that the government was considering requiring declarations of 'a certain scale' of people. He didn't specify what scale that might be.

In September last year, Wen told the Davos Forum in Switzerland that China should work to turn those requirements into a real system of public disclosure. Last February, he told internet users during an online chat that the government was actively preparing for such a mechanism and corresponding regulations. But no real progress has been made so far.

Chen Yongmiao, a Beijing-based political analyst, said that currently disclosures, which are not made known to the public, only served as a way for more senior officials to control their underlings.

'Because the ruling party itself was founded on robbing the public, it would be impossible for it to disclose what it has stolen,' he said.

He explained that the citizenry was robbed at the founding of the People's Republic, because farmers' lands were seized and nationalised in the 1950s. Private wealth was confiscated and turned into public funds, which officials have been embezzling in various ways.

Chen added that without thorough political reform, little progress would be made on accessing officials' financial information to expose wrongdoers.

Falsehoods and dishonesty

Wu Yuliang, deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, dismissed reform moves. He said officials would simply file false information about their assets.

'On the one hand, you couldn't trust the figures they declared; on the other, related agencies couldn't check their validity,' he said.

But Wang Quanjie, a professor at Yantai University, insists 'technical problems' can be sorted out.

'To say it's difficult to get and assess statistics is just as ridiculous as saying that there's no way to install more voting machines in a hall, so it's therefore impossible to allow more people to vote,' he said.

Wang was a deputy to the National People's Congress between 2003 and 2007. He regularly called on officials to disclose their assets, but he got nowhere. The official objection was that it would be very difficult to collect and assess data as officials would just lie about their wealth.

But Wang believes the real reason was reluctance to confront serious corruption within the party.

Wang said Beijing missed two good opportunities to kick-start reform. The first was in the 1990s, when corruption was still manageable; the other eight years ago, when a civil servants law was drafted and passed. 'In future, the chain [of corrupt officials] will only become longer and more of them will get entangled. That will make disclosing personal assets even more difficult,' Wang said.

In 2009, several local municipal governments - including Aletai in Xinjiang and Cixi in Zhejiang - started high-profile experiments with disclosing officials' assets. Some information was displayed on government websites and interior bulletins. But few other areas have followed their lead. Central authorities have failed to applaud, or even acknowledge, the effort.

'If the central government had advertised Aletai, as it has done with [party hero] Lei Feng, I see no reason why the mechanism could not have spread to other areas,' said Wang Quanjie, a party official.

Professor Wang Yukai, an anti-corruption expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, says the biggest obstacle to introducing anti-corruption regulations has come from the top.

'If, after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, [Vice-President] Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang [executive vice-premier of the State Council] begin to disclose their own assets, there will be no reason why it can't be followed by officials below. It's a question of resolve,' Wang said.

'In countries where a true asset-declaration mechanism exists, top leaders traditionally take the lead in disclosing their financial status.'

He suggested that small-scale declarations should be implemented first. They should apply to newly appointed cadres and gradually expanded to lower-level officials over time, he said.

'Another option is that we could also set an upper limit on assets for officials at a certain level,' Wang said. 'The assets above this line would be put into state ownership', and officials wouldn't be punished after they handed over extra assets.

News

In March, Bo Xilai , the Community Party chief of the municipality of Chongqing , was fired from his position after his involvement in a scandal.

The scandal erupted when Wang Lijun , Bo's right-hand man and former top cop, sought refuge in an American consulate in Chengdu in February. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai , was linked to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last November. Since their detention, the accumulated wealth of the Bos and their relatives has come to light.

According to the Bloomberg news agency, Bo had a salary as party boss of about 10,000 yuan (HK$12,309) a month. Yet he and his relatives have accumulated at least US$136 million in assets on the mainland and overseas. The revelation has given new weight to calls for the mainland's leaders to disclose their assets.

Voices: what people are saying

?Reform shouldn?t be difficult to accomplish. A good start would be for China?s next president and premier to lead by example?

Professor Wang Yukai, an anti-corruption expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing

?Citizens want officials to be honest about their income and assets, to ensure that they are not looting the public coffers or accumulating ill-gotten wealth. This helps build a climate of integrity and trust towards senior public officials?

Jean Pesme, manager of the World Bank?s financial-market integrity group

?Bo Xilai might be corrupt, but he is a capable leader and is good to poor people?

Beijing taxi driver

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