Disclosure can help curb graft
There is one point about corruption on which we have no argument with an editorial this week in the Chinese version of the Global Times, a newspaper under the People's Daily: Corruption is everywhere and impossible to eradicate. That is, after all, why many places, including Hong Kong, have independent anti-corruption agencies and measures to curb graft. In the newspaper's opinion, however, the persistence of corruption apparently serves as a reason for the mainland public to shut up and put up with crooked officials. This deserves condemnation and official repudiation.
While noting that China is 'plagued' by corruption, the newspaper says the time is not ripe to eradicate it, that this is realistically impossible anyway at this stage of the country's development, and the people should tolerate a certain amount. The key, it says, is to manage the capacity of the people's tolerance. Presumably, the editorial means that this is not the time to expect effective efforts to curb corruption. This does not square with repeated warnings by top leaders that official corruption poses a threat to the political legitimacy of Communist one-party rule. The article appeared while the public awaits an outcome in the scandal involving disgraced politician Bo Xilai and his family's unexplained personal fortunes. It also came on the same day the Communist Party expelled corrupt former railways minister Liu Zhijun and two days before graft-busters detained a senior executive of the Agriculture Bank in a probe into theft and illegal gambling.
Not long ago the authorities cited the extradition and jailing of fugitive smuggling king Lai Changxing, who bribed scores of officials, as evidence of their determination to fight corruption. Lai's crimes were in the 1990s. The public perception is that the shocking scale of official corruption then is undiminished, if not worse. It is rampant because officials wield so much power but are subject to very little supervision or accountability. The leadership has tried to fight corruption with rules for official conduct, but the necessary checks and balances to curb abuse of power are lacking, and there is little effective scrutiny by the media. But for events triggered by the suspicious death of a British businessman, Bo Xilai's case might never have surfaced in the media.
Left unchecked, corrupt officials corrupt the next generation of officials, from the national to the local level. Other countries have found that a circuit-breaker - and one of the most effective weapons to fight graft - is a rule that officials and their relatives must declare and regularly update their income and assets, with a mechanism for scrutiny. Mainland officials have surely run out of excuses for not heeding calls for a similar law. A generational change of leadership scheduled for next autumn provides an opportunity for top leaders to set an example by declaring their income and assets and those of their families.