Opaque policymaking is the breeding ground of corruption

When policymaking is cloaked in secrecy, people will pay to get their way, and conmen will happily exploit the gullible and greedy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:14am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:14am

China has come a long way since its opening up in the late 1970s. But it has made scant progress in creating a system of government based on rules of law, openness and transparency.

With policymaking remaining a process cloaked in secrecy, getting to know people with the right connections in the bureaucracy or those with family ties to leaders is the preferred way to get things done.

Naturally, such an environment creates rich pickings for imposters who fleece not only gullible ordinary people but also sophisticated businessmen and even senior officials. The more secretive an institution, the more likely that conmen will flock to represent it.

Few mainland bodies are more secretive and powerful than the People's Liberation Army, which has been beset by rampant corruption. While media regulators usually keep a tight lid on negative news about the armed forces, occasional state media reports reveal that fraudsters have been impersonating senior officers for money and sex.

Last week, the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) aired a special programme detailing how two fraudsters used fake military identification papers and military uniforms bought from street vendors to fleece millions of yuan from victims ranging from ordinary citizens to businessmen and government officials.

One of the scam artists impersonated a major general who claimed to be a "deputy director of personnel" of the PLA's powerful General Political Department. He conned about four million yuan (HK$5 million) from some 20 people who believed that he had the power to get their children admitted to military academies, to obtain promotions for military personnel, or to settle court cases. Along the way, he used fake identity papers to marry two women at the same time.

The other fraudster claimed to be a son-in-law of an unnamed top leader and conned his victims out of more than three million yuan in just two years, including 1.2 million yuan from a Shenzhen property developer.

According to a brief Legal Daily report in September, prosecutors at Beijing's Tongzhou district alone handled seven cases involving 11 imposters in less than three years, fleecing money not only from civilians but also from PLA personnel. The imposters usually impersonated top brass or their relatives, and - for a hefty fee - offered to help place victims' children in military schools or find good jobs for former military personnel.

Ironically, the prevalence of so many swindlers posing as senior military officers only highlights the rampant corruption in the armed forces - conmen thrive only because their "victims" are willing to bribe their way to promotions or to get their children (who may have trouble finding jobs elsewhere) into the military.

Another popular guise for conmen is pretending to be a "princeling" - a child or relative of top leaders - particularly in Beijing where former and current leaders and their families reside.

Princelings are active in the social scene and rub shoulders with the elite and powerful. They are often evasive and reserved about discussing their background and identities, but smile furtively when others talk about their impeccable connections.

Swindlers skilfully play on this mystique when locking onto their targets. For many businessmen, the chance to make the acquaintance of a princeling - and, presumably, the access to privileged information and lucrative deals - can be irresistible.

Even the genuinely well-connected have fallen prey to the conmen. The trials of former railways minister Liu Zhijun and his money handler Ding Shumiao revealed that both were victims of fraud at least twice before their own fall.

In late 2007, after one of Liu's associates was arrested for corruption, Liu instructed Ding to do whatever it took to get a lighter sentence for the associate.

Ding found someone who boasted strong ties to the leadership, and paid that person 44 million yuan and an accomplice 14 million yuan. In the end, the associate was jailed for 14 years, while the imposters received sentences of between 13 to 15 years.

In 2010, Ding was cheated of five million yuan from another imposter who claimed to know the secretary to Li Yuanchao , then the head of the Communist Party's Organisation Department responsible for promotions of officials. Ding approached the imposter after Liu - eyeing another promotion - asked her to find connections to set up a lunch with Li, who is now the country's vice-president .

The imposter confessed after he was arrested that he did not know the secretary and simply pocketed the money after telling Ding that Li agreed to a meeting but it would have to be delayed.