National People's Congress

A long road towards the rule of law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2003, 12:00am

SCMP, March 12, 2003

Interpreting crime statistics is an art. Just what should one make of a 25 per cent rise in serious crime convictions with sentences of more than five years, and a 65 per cent rise in the number of officials convicted of corruption in the mainland over the past five years? Or a 240 per cent increase in the number of civil cases and a 170 per cent jump in labour disputes?

The figures seem to paint a picture of deteriorating law and order as well as increasing social chaos. Violent crime has been a growing concern in the cities as the wealth gap widens, social control loosens and the migrant population booms. In some localities, gangsters and corrupt officials have teamed up to turn communities into havens for the underworld.

But that is just one side of the overall scenario. Regular visitors to the mainland cannot but be impressed by the strides that the society has made as a whole as a vibrant economy brings greater wealth to all. Although corruption remains a problem, it would be rash to deduce from a 65 per cent rise in the number of officials convicted of graft that there has been a corresponding increase in shady dealings on the mainland. There are reasons to suggest more officials have been convicted because of more determined and effective efforts by the authorities to flush out corruption. In turn, that has inspired public confidence to report more graft, leading to more arrests.

Senior leaders have repeatedly stressed the need to stamp out graft, knowing that it threatens the very basis of communist rule. Fighting corruption was one of the major themes in retiring premier Zhu Rongji's work reports to the National People's Congress.

He had to, because of a strong undercurrent of discontent among NPC delegates, who have taken to showing their dissatisfaction by either abstaining or voting against the work reports of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate. Last year, 28 per cent said no or abstained over the high court's report, compared with 30 per cent in 2001. The procuratorate's report failed to be endorsed by 27 per cent of delegates last year, and 32 per cent in 2001. The figures were much higher than those cast for reports by other arms of the government. It remains to be seen what the level of support these reports will get this year.

An encouraging sign is the 240 per cent rise in the number of civil cases, which is clearly an indication of the growing role played by courts in arbitrating private disputes. Hardly a day now passes without the mainland papers giving prominent treatment to a suit filed by an ordinary member of the public to assert his or her right against a government department or a big company. Gone are the days when such disputes would be disposed of by the local party secretary, or just hushed up to the disadvantage of the people who have no friends in high places.

However, there is still a long way to go before the rule of law can be considered entrenched on the mainland. This paper has documented the plight of dozens of Hong Kong people who were detained on the mainland for inordinately long periods of time under dubious legal authority. Two of them are taking their cases to the NPC, as we report today.

Despite the progress being made by the mainland's legal and judicial departments to enhance the rule of law, much more needs to be done before the individual will feel safe being taken inside a police station.

Discussion points

? In your understanding, what are the elements that constitute a corrupt act? Give examples of corruption.

? Do you think Hong Kong students have a good grasp of the concepts of honesty and anti-corruption?

? What are the effective ways of fighting bribery and corruption?


team up (phrasal v) to join forces to achieve a common goal

haven (n) a place of security and sanctuary. Note that it is not the same as heaven

strides (n) large steps forward, progress

rash (adj) thoughtless

stamp out (phrasal v) to put an end to something

hush up (phrasal v) to keep information from the public

Example: Every hour, at least, a coal miner dies in the mainland's pits, paying the price of cheap energy. Countless fatalities are hushed up by the authorities.

(SCMP, March 2, 2003)