• Wed
  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 11:15am
Column
PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 4:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 9:19am

As graft crackdown grinds on, scepticism persists

Xi's government needs to reassure public that corruption campaign will have lasting results

BIO

Wang Xiangwei took up the role of Editor-in-Chief in February 2012, responsible for the editorial direction and newsroom operations. He started his 20-year career at the China Daily, before moving to the UK, where he gained valuable experience at a number of news organisations, including the BBC Chinese Service. In 1993, he moved to Hong Kong and worked at the Eastern Express before joining the South China Morning Post in 1996 as our China Business Reporter. He was subsequently promoted to China Editor in 2000 and Deputy Editor in 2007, a position he held for four years prior to being promoted to his current position. Mr. Wang has a Masters degree in Journalism, and a Bachelors degree in English.
 

A short Xinhua news item about the transfer of a mid-level Communist Party official raised eyebrows and set tongues wagging in mainland political circles last week. Jiang Sixian - the party secretary of Sanya, a small but strategically key city on the southern tip of Hainan - was appointed party chief of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

On its face, the move might not seem controversial. The new job at the prestigious university would preserve Jiang's vice-ministerial ranking in the government hierarchy.

But many saw the transfer as the beginning of the end for a once-promising career. A university chief, after all, has less power and fewer opportunities for advancement.

The move was surprising because Jiang, 59, has been considered a rising star with close connections to the "Shanghai gang", the party clique dominated by former president Jiang Zemin .

One potential explanation for the apparent sidelining of Jiang Sixian may have emerged the next day when the party's Central Committee released revised rules governing the promotions of cadres. They for the first time excluded promotion of so-called "naked officials", or cadres whose spouses and children have emigrated.

Jiang might have been the first casualty of the new rules as his wife is believed to have secured permanent residency in Hong Kong, where his daughter also works.

The naked official phenomenon has become a national cause for concern in recent years, with many officials - some of them corrupt - sending their close family members to Hong Kong or locations overseas. The United States and Australia are among the most popular destinations.

Stories about the luxurious lives that the families of these officials enjoy - the big houses and the expensive cars - have deeply embarrassed Beijing as they send a clear signal of the lack of confidence in the government and the system.

The new rules also appeared aimed at preventing mainland officials from using their power and influence to help their family members land high-paid jobs at overseas companies, which are more than willing to use the favour as leverage to win lucrative contracts.

Indeed, it's common knowledge that major investment banks have tried hard to hire the children and spouses of senior mainland officials, offering attractive compensation packages, primarily for the family connections they can bring.

Numerous media outlets have reported that United States authorities are investigating several major American banks to determine if they broke US laws against overseas bribery.

There are already signs that mainland officials have started to push their family members to leave such foreign companies and move to mainland firms.

But it remains to be seen whether the new rules will truly deter officials as the temptation of foreign residency and lucrative jobs with overseas companies is too strong to ignore. In addition, the rules appear to apply only to the incumbent officials - family members of retired officials can still take up cushy jobs at overseas firms.

More importantly, whether the new rules can be effectively enforced over the long term is another question. Mainland authorities are well known for launching campaigns to tackle serious problems that bring short-term results. But the reality is that the problems often return after the campaigns end.

Thus, there have understandably been many questions over what lasting changes President Xi Jinping will achieve with his anti-corruption campaign.

The central government has over the past year issued some 15 regulations targeting public corruption and extravagance, according to mainland media reports. Lavish banquets have been banned, as well sending gift cards, building new office buildings, sponsoring galas and purchasing new cars. They have prohibited officials from joining private clubs, smoking in public places and having lavish weddings and funerals.

More than 90 per cent of 100 low-level civil servants recently surveyed by The Beijing News said their benefits had dwindled and their jobs have grown harder over the past year. They complained the rules were too strict, with some grass-roots cadres suggesting they could consider quitting the jobs as their grey revenues dried up.

The government insists it has no plans to lower the heat. The People's Daily ran commentaries three days in a row trumpeting the line that the easy days of being a civil servant were over.

Mainlanders who have seen so many such campaigns over the years can be forgiven for wondering if old habits would return to normal after this one subsides.

Wang Qishan , the country's top anti-graft official, admitted that his first priority was to find a way to contain the rampant corruption and gain enough time and experience to come up with a more effective long-term approach.

Achieving that goal means that the authorities must take effective measures to increase accountability and transparency and promote the rule of law. To paraphrase one of Xi's favourite slogans: power should be put in a cage. On that score, the government's success is unclear. The bureaucrats are still putting up a strong resistance.

xiangwei.wang@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

whymak
Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign should work with the US investigative authorities to ferret out quid pro quos between Chinese officials and US investment banks, which use employment of officials' children as a form of bribery. By doing so, Chinese law enforcement is getting valuable information otherwise unavailable for free.
Rampant corruption in China is no longer a secret. This ongoing effort is going to take at least a decade. Chinese people should not have unreasonable expectations for a short time frame.
Claw-backs from ill-gotten gains and long jail terms are effective deterrents. Whether they are sufficient to change the mindset of these self appointed profit sharers remain yet to be seen.
With the economy growing by leaps and bounds, many in civil service may be eying at the nouveau riche and demanding a "fair" share. Unfortunately, this is a permanent human condition.
In the fight against corruption during MacLehose administration, we boosted civil service top dogs' compensation and aggrandized many mediocre, visionless and talentless folks like Anson Chan and Donald Tsang to a wealth level unknown in developed countries.
Perhaps this is one of the necessary measures to contain corruption. Career bureaucrats are not risk takers, especially when they have a salary and perks that enable them to live like the wealthy.
China should take this point into serious consideration.
likingming
張五常:"De-regulations help in containing the powers of officials and hence corruptions"
chaz_hen
Shoot...without all the bennies, perks and potential for vast wealth, what's the point of even joining the CCP anymore?? Definitely not the hollow words of 为人民服务
lamlm38
why not hire our ICAC blokes as advisors :)
Byebye
Who? Tim Tong?
lamlm38
more like 为人民币服务!!
whymak
x
 
 
 
 
 

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