Time for princelings to set an example

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 January, 2005, 12:00am

It's never been easier to be a con artist on the mainland. As long as one says the magic words - claiming to be the son or daughter of a senior mainland official - businessmen and local officials will line up to offer money to curry favour, no matter how whimsical the fabrication.

In the Zhuhai scandal reported yesterday, a couple who reportedly had only a junior school education managed to con investors out of more than 200 million yuan before fleeing to Canada.

Their only trick - but an effective one - was a doctored photo purporting to prove that a woman they claimed as a godmother was the relative of a top mainland leader.

Victims included a Macau businessman who lost 46 million yuan and a Zhuhai businessman who lost 29.5 million yuan.

The beauty of the scam is that it is very difficult to verify such claims. Contact details for the offices of top mainland leaders are state secrets, as is information about their family members.

A little more transparency could easily scare the con artists away and help safeguard the reputations of senior officials.

But more importantly, senior government officials should seriously consider addressing the corruption issue surrounding their family members and allow a certain amount of public scrutiny of their business activities.

As I recently argued in this column, the ability of top leaders to rein in the business activities of their family members will largely determine the success of the mainland's anti-corruption campaign. And mainland leaders have repeatedly warned that the very survival of the Communist Party depends on its success.

It would be wrong to argue that the princelings should not be engaged in business activities, but there has been widespread dissatisfaction on the mainland that princelings and leaders' wives have found lucrative jobs with multinationals or set themselves up in the fast-growing telecommunications and financial industries, where central government policy decisions offer the chance to make big bucks.

Many have become highly paid lobbyists on behalf of foreign companies and special interest groups.

Such behaviour would be scandalous in the United States or Europe.

Mainland leaders could encourage their offspring and relatives to serve the country, particularly in the armed forces as European royals frequently do. And they could encourage their children to work in industries and areas which they have tirelessly exhorted others to tackle in order to show their patriotism. Education is one such sector, and scientific and technological research is another.

The leadership has also called for more people and money to develop the poorer western provinces and rejuvenate the northeastern rust belt to narrow the gap with the booming coastal areas.

What better example could mainland leaders set than having their sons and daughters play a part in the 'glorious enterprise'?

It would be a sure bet that a princeling working for one of the mainland's poorest counties in Gansu or Qinghai would have a much better chance of lifting it rapidly out of poverty than half a dozen capable and dedicated officials.