Transparency essential in anti-corruption campaign to win public trust

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 4:06pm

The noose has increasingly tightened for Chinese public servants since the leadership transition was finalised in March this year.

Apart from Xi Jinping’s grand political proposal of the “Chinese Dream,” observers have focused much of their attention on his anti-corruption campaign. It should be a win-win game for Xi, who needs to consolidate his power base. Striking against graft can establish his authority within the Party on the one hand, while drumming up popular support on the other.

In a shocking revelation on the extent of corruption in military ranks, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said that a total of 8,100 apartments or houses and 25,000 motor vehicles had been recovered from officers during its recent anti-corruption investigation into the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police. A conservative estimate would put the combined market price of the 8,100 houses at a whopping 4 billion yuan (HK$5.05 billion).

In another example, officials at an “impoverished” village in Changsha, Hunan were found in early October to have built a seven-storey luxury office building costing tens of millions of yuan, for just five village officials to work in. That gave each official more than 200 square metres of working space, more than four times the upper limit set in a 1999 government regulation for much more senior provincial governors and Party secretaries.

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, has observed that corrupt Chinese officials often act like “rural kings.” Nobody could argue with him here.

But the impressive hauls from anti-corruption investigations targeting Party and military officials have now raised another difficult question: what should be done with the illegal housing and cars?

Chinese bureaucrats are known to have come up with all sorts of ingenious strategies to deal with these top-down campaigns. When Party officials in Pei county, Jiangsu province were exposed for building huge, extravagant offices for themselves in late October, they quickly announced that they were “correcting” their mistakes by moving 1,985 officials from other departments into the new building, thus diluting the per capita space and bringing themselves within the limits of regulations.

In other cases, some officials built new, smaller offices for themselves after they were found to have exceeded their office space limits. The large offices were then “frozen.”

It’s the same with vehicles. Many government offices lock up their luxury limousines and apply for more budget to buy smaller cars for their cadre to cope with the heat of the anti-corruption campaigns.

Many media and internet commentators have asked the obvious question: couldn’t the illegal housing and cars either be auctioned or donated for public use? Luxury government offices, for example, could be converted into libraries, community centres or movie theatres.

Instead, officials seem to be creating more waste and potentially increasing corruption by spending even more public funds to rectify their offences or waste already created. Only when concrete efforts are being made to make sure the seized properties – houses and cars – are being dealt with in a transparent and lawful manner, can the anti-corruption campaigns yield real results and win the trust of citizens.

This should be a major agenda item for Communist Party and military leaders.