China's household registration system a 'tool for corrupt officials'

Commentators say that the household registration system has become a tool for corrupt officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 1:55am

An ancient Chinese aphorism says a wily hare has three burrows. Gong Aiai , a former bank executive in Shaanxi's Shenmu county, went one better, using four identities to build up a Beijing property portfolio worth more than one billion yuan (HK$1.24 billion).

At first, internet users revealed that the 49-year-old former deputy chief of Shenmu Rural Commercial Bank had used two names, two identity cards and two hukou (registered household addresses) to buy 20 properties in the capital.

Gong, once reputed to be the coal mining county's richest woman, said she thought it was auspicious to have two names and she had just been silly and ignorant. She said the properties were bought with her family, using money from coal mining.

Shenmu police said it was a registration error and the extra hukou was revoked.

People found this hard to swallow and they were proved right when further tip-offs led the media to report that Gong actually had four ID cards and four hukou, three in Shenmu county and one in Beijing.

Beijing hukou is the most sought after and difficult to get because it is a free pass to many entitlements, from buying a car or property to better odds of being admitted to a Beijing university.

"In the world of privileges, there has never been a shortage of bottomless pits. Two hukou became four hukou in 24 hours," the Beijing Youth Daily reported. "We drew a conclusion too early and it showed not only how naive we are but how powerful the privileged are."

Although Beijing police quickly announced that Gong's Beijing hukou had been revoked and that the policeman who issued it would be punished, the media asked just how Gong obtained four hukou and, more importantly, from whom.

"Why does a Yulin People's Congress deputy and a senior bank executive need so many fake hukou?" asked the Beijing Times. "If the money to purchase the housing was obtained from a legal family coal mining business, why did she put so many houses under a fake name? Was it really because she was 'silly and ignorant' that she bought property with her extra hukou? Are her assets totally legal? All these questions need to be investigated."

Gong is not the only wealthy mainlander to take advantage of multiple hukou amid controls on property purchases which bar non-locals from buying apartments unless certain criteria are met and allow local permanent residents to own no more than three residential properties.

Zhai Zhenfeng , a former director of the housing administration bureau in Zhengzhou , Henan , and three family members all had two hukou and between them owned 31 properties, it was revealed last month. Zhai was arrested on suspicion of abuse of power.

An investigation by Xinhua uncovered a thriving business in a county in Jilin , with a grass-roots police station charging 30,000 to 50,000 yuan for extra hukou.

"What lies beneath multiple hukou is corruption," the Beijing Youth Daily said. "It has become a tool for corrupt officials."

The list goes on. Tao Yong, the former head of the public security bureau in Anhui's Fengyang county, acquired another identity to open bank accounts in different cities to take bribes. He was arrested last month.

Chen Wenzhu, former head of the tobacco monopoly in Shanwei , Guangdong, used forged ID cards to travel to Hong Kong and Macau 74 times. Chen was removed from his post and expelled from the party for corruption in 2011.

The Beijing Times said: "For common residents, getting hukou is sometimes almost impossible, so how can such complicated procedures and strict controls always be ignored for the sake of the rich and powerful?"

The Workers' Daily criticised unnamed authorities for not apologising to the public or conducting a crackdown.