As children return to schools across China, a county in Guangdong province is coming to terms with a corruption case in its education bureau, which, along with the county administration’s response, has come to embody the small-scale abuse of power commonplace in rural areas.
On Monday, the China News Service reported the long-awaited results of an investigation into a cadre accused of awarding lucrative student uniform contracts for the entire county's schools to a company owned by his family for eight years.
Cai Zhitao, deputy head of the Zijin county educational department in eastern Guangdong, profited by an estimated 100 million yuan (HK$126.8 million) after he awarded the company the exclusive right to manufacture the school uniforms, which are worn by approximately 101,000 students in the province.
Every new pupil had to buy four sets of the clothes, allowing Cai’s firm to turn over some 34 million yuan in sales every year thanks to its monopoly. Overcharging parents made Cai an annual profit of around 16 million yuan.
The report, which has drawn the attention of national media, comes three months after the authorities first launched an investigation into allegations of corruption in the sleepy county with its Hakka-majority population.
Cai was not investigated earlier because he had been in charge of violations of discipline within the education department.
Both Cai’s wife and son worked for the county administration but the son rarely showed-up for work, colleagues told local media. On the day after the news reports of an investigation emerged, the son was reassigned to another department.
Cai has rejected allegations of impropriety and has since taken leave on medical grounds.
Zhang Li, the whistleblower in the case, told the Southern Metropolis Daily she had received death threats following the expose.
Local residents, outraged by the report, shared photos of Cai’s riches online, including images of a brand new SUV car.
Collusion between cadres is a common factor in corruption in rural areas of the mainland, according to Xiong Wei, a Beijing-based activist who travels throughout the mainland offering advice on implementing local elections. “The reason for this is the lack of a system of checks and balances. There is no supervision,” he said.
Cai is expected to stand trial soon.