Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang's tough talk on graft is 'short on substance'

Critics say that real reforms must begin by forcing officials to be transparent on all assets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 5:28am


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Officials should "abandon any expectation of getting rich" new Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday, and to show he was serious about combatting graft, promised to cut the expense accounts of bureaucrats.

But to many observers, Li wasted an opportunity to show his sincerity in fighting corruption when he failed to mention the one measure the public has repeatedly called for - the full disclosure of assets held by officials.

Li told the press conference wrapping up the annual session of the legislature that the public coffers would not be abused under his tenure. He outlined three measures to show Beijing's resolve to fight corruption: no government offices, halls or guest houses would be built during his leadership; the number of civil servants would drop; and spending on official hospitality would be reined in.

"Corruption is incompatible with the nature of government, like fire to water," Li said, adding that the government needed to establish and perfect anti-corruption measures, and had to punish corrupt officials "without mercy".

His words echoed new president Xi Jinping, who has struggled to contain public anger over an endless stream of corruption scandals in recent years, especially cases in which officials embezzle public funds to support lavish lifestyles.

But the premier's pledge disappointed many observers when he failed to mention a mechanism to disclose officials' assets, widely seen key to any anti-corruption drive.

"It shows the top leaders are again not willing to produce real results in fighting corruption, but just lavish us with words and few actions, as usual," said Zhang Ming , a professor of political science at Renmin University.

"The basic requirement for the public to supervise the government is making asset declarations accessible to the public, and nothing will happen without it."

Li also said yesterday that his administration was willing to accept greater oversight from society and the media on clean governance.

There have been extensive calls from the public in recent years for a system requiring party officials to disclose their assets, but critics say corruption is too deeply ingrained in the system and that implementing such a regulation would be very difficult.

A media source said the party's propaganda department had said before the annual legislative meeting that reporters would not be allowed ask questions about public disclosure.

A Bloomberg investigation last year said that many of Xi's relatives had profited from their association with him, holding some US$376 million in assets, despite there being no indication that Xi intervened to advance his relatives' business interests.

"The current anti-corruption drive is very likely to fail based on the premier's presentation," said Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan .

"The top leaders might have encountered a major source of friction inside the party, and realised that persuading officials to come clean and give up the perks of power is impossible."