Credibility the key to graft crackdown

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2002, 12:00am

The expulsion of former Bank of China chief Wang Xuebing from the party on graft charges days before the opening of the crucial 16th party congress sends an important message, but it also underscores the difficulty of waging a credible campaign against corruption.

The Communist Party must be seen to be cracking down on sleaze and fraud in order to ease public discontent over rampant corruption. The move against Wang is especially well-timed, as private entrepreneurs are being allowed to join the party for the first time. In announcing Wang's expulsion, Xinhua also condemned his 'decadent' lifestyle, saying he abused his position by receiving expensive gifts and large bribes.

Wang, an alternate member of the Central Committee of the 15th party congress, is an easy target because his punishment has been widely expected since he came under investigation this year.

'The Wang Xuebing case has to come to a closure,' said Hu Shuli, managing editor of Caijing magazine, which has published investigative reports on several high-profile corruption scandals. 'It shows that such a large-scale corruption cannot escape public scrutiny and has to be dealt with.'

But the public is not easily satisfied by anti-corruption efforts, said one political scientist.

'The problem is the credibility gap as the public turns sceptical about the fall guy,' he said. 'People ask why Wang? Why not others?'

Speculation is rife that the crackdown is often politically motivated. Wang's spectacular fall followed the sentencing of Zhu Xiaohua, former head of the state-run Everbright Group, to 15 years in prison. Both Wang and Zhu were said to be proteges of Premier Zhu Rongji.

Gao Yan, former chief of State Power Corp and a full member of the Central Committee of the 15th party congress, reportedly fled to Australia after an inquiry was launched. Gao was from National People's Congress chairman Li Peng's camp.

Jia Qinglin, former Beijing party secretary, has been under a cloud for his alleged connection to the Yuan Hua smuggling scandal when he served as governor of Fujian. He is tipped to take a seat on the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo or even to become chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference.

If he succeeds in winning one of those top posts, the anti-corruption campaign would lose credibility, the source said.

'The Communist Party wants to win public support by showing its resolve to achieve transparency, honesty and accountability, but the clean-up effort is too often seen as just window-dressing,' he said.