Appointment of top audit official to Party organ signals shift in China's anti-graft strategy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 11:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 12:58pm

A personnel reshuffle in the Communist Party’s disciplinary forces in Shanghai appears to indicate a power transfer from local governments to the central anti-graft authorities, analysts say.

Hou Kai,  51, a former deputy director of the National Audit Office and a standing committee member of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), was appointed as the head of the Shanghai Disciplinary Commission yesterday, replacing  Yang Xiaodu, age 60,  Xinhua  said. 

The appointment is significant, according to Zhu Lijia, a professor of public policy at the Chinese Academy of Governance,  because it showed the CCDI had started a restructuring process in line with the party’s recent announcement of a package of reforms following its third plenum meeting, which ended last week.

“His appointment signifies the personnel decision on regional CCDI officials is now determined at the central level, and that could enhance the independence of the disciplinary watchdogs,” Zhu said.

The party announced a series of reform plans after its third plenary session, including a new scheme that empowered the CCDI to oversee the appointment of lower-level disciplinary officials. Traditionally, the agency had little real power over such officials, who are  picked by local party committees.

“CCDI officials will have more freedom to fight corruption at the regional level by being separated from the local bureaucratic hierarchy,” said Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption expert at Peking University.

He said the appointment of Hou could be just the start and more could be expected in months to come.

“The anti-graft agency must have a group of independent and powerful officials to crack down on corruption,” Zhuang said. “The change was made after the top leadership realised collusion between corrupt officials and regional graft-busters was severe, which slowed their efforts to ensure a clean government.”

Many disciplinary officials have reportedly been convicted of the kind of corruption they were tasked with fighting.

In 2010, Wang Huayuan,  a former top anti-graft official in Zhejiang province, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for taking bribes of 7.71 million yuan (HK$9.75 million) and being unable to account for  another 8.94 million yuan in personal assets.  In 2006, a massive investigation in Chenzhou in Hunan province brought down at least six senior local officials, including the city’s party chief, mayor and the top corruption watchdog.

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly vowed to crack down on corruption and has promised to the public that he would battle both “tigers’ and “flies”, indicating that officials at all ranks were under scrutiny.

A total of 11 officials at the vice-ministerial level or above have fallen after Xi was appointed as party leader last November, and a number of senior executives of state-owned enterprises are also under investigation.