Wen Jiabao

Small print of anti-graft regulations lets the princelings off the hook

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

Readers of this column will have noticed that during the past two years I have repeatedly stressed the need for the mainland leadership to tackle corruption involving top government and Communist Party officials and their family members.

As I have often argued, China's anti-corruption campaign will not go far if the leaders urge lower-ranking officials to supervise their children but allow their own family members to make illicit gains. After all, a fine example has boundless power.

So it is gratifying to learn that top leaders have begun to make the right noises during the past few months about targeting high-level official corruption.

In September, the party leadership released a revised set of rules to force high-ranking government and party officials to report changes in their personal lives and the personal and business lives of their children and spouses, after President Hu Jintao chaired a special Politburo meeting in August to discuss the rules.

Last month, Mr Hu told a national meeting of the party's investigators that the anti-graft campaign would target high-level official corruption, focusing on senior government and party officials, and their spouses and children.

Last Friday, Premier Wen Jiabao chaired the State Council's fifth anti-corruption conference, urging officials, and senior officials in particular, to keep their children, relatives and aides under strict supervision to prevent them using their power to make personal gains.

During the past few weeks, hardly a day has gone by without ministries or provincial governments issuing detailed regulations promising tougher measures to crack down on officials abusing their power for personal gain in the areas of housing, cars, stock markets and other business activities, as well as those who keep mistresses

Although these anti-corruption measures are commendable, they are most likely to be another round of 'loud thunder, little rain'. This is partly because the children and spouses of the mainland's top leaders do not appear to be affected by such rules and regulations.

Talk to any mainland businessman and he is likely to tell you that corruption is mostly rampant among the so-called princelings - children and relatives of the top government and party leaders.

The children and wives of top government leaders can simply make a phone call to arrange a face-to-face meeting with any minister or provincial party secretary and governor.

It may take weeks, or even months, for others to set up such a meeting.

That explains why leading European and American investment banks have scrambled over one another to hire children of senior government officials for their mainland teams.

The irony is that while Chinese leaders have vowed to punish any official who abuses his power to make illegal gains for their children and wives, they have had a difficult time controlling their own. Or, probably, they are unwilling to.

It is public knowledge that many princelings have set up their own businesses or worked for leading foreign investment banks and multinationals at home and abroad, peddling the influence of their parents.

But mainland leaders have made sure that they do not have to report such activities, despite what the September regulations state.

The small print of the regulations only requires officials to report the financial status and business activities of children who live with their parents under the same roof.

And you guessed it - not many of those princelings live with their parents.

That is the beauty of having such regulations, but not actually implementing them.