Mainland China not ready for its own ICAC, analysts say

Analysts say Hong Kong's anti-graft agency may be seen as a model, but will not work in a system without judicial independence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 5:13pm

Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption may be seen as a model for other regions and countries to follow as it marks its 40th anniversary.

But it is probably an impossible act for the mainland's anti-graft watchdog to follow, experts say.

"The ICAC succeeded because it is an autonomous investigation unit in a society with judicial independence," said Ren Jianming, a professor of public administration at Beihang University in Beijing. "The mainland first needs to tackle the problems of an excessive concentration of power, and it is highly unlikely its disciplinary watchdogs will copy the ICAC system because of the judiciary's lack of independence or transparency."

The China Anti-Corruption and Bribery Bureau was founded in the late 1980s and placed under prosecution authorities nationwide. Former chief justice Xiao Yang set up the first centre in Guangdong, and received public reports on corruption.

Xiao later wrote in a memoir that he hoped the success of the Hong Kong agency could be duplicated on the mainland.

He wrote that the Guangdong bureau had worked well at first, with many bribery cases being reported.

But some conservatives attacked it for adopting tactics they described as appropriate for Hong Kong, but not suited to the mainland. The nation was split over the prospects for reform, and some believed that drawing inspiration from Hong Kong meant a swing too far towards capitalism.

The bureau was sidelined after the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) took over responsibility for investigations.

"To put it most simply, the anti-corruption bureau is law-abiding while the CCDI is exempt from the law," said Professor Zhuang Deshui , who studies anti-graft efforts at Peking University.

"It's much more convenient to use the CCDI to punish party officials."

The CCDI can hold cadres under shuanggui, a secretive system of detention and interrogation in which suspects can be kept incommunicado before being handed over to prosecutors.

The anti-corruption bureau has now been reduced to a rubber stamp.

Xiao said in his memoir that the bureau he founded had little power to get other ministries to co-operate, and that anti-graft laws should be strengthened.

Ren said the mainland must evolve its own model rather than copy Hong Kong's.

"The social environment on the mainland and in Hong Kong differ considerably," he said. "Change in the mainland's anti-corruption system is not going to happen overnight. It will be a gradual process that could take years before results are seen."

Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University's school of government, said the idea of an independent anti-graft force was gaining traction, but it would not be easily realised.

"Fighting corruption involves a redistribution of power between different departments, and anything relating to a power reshuffle in China is a difficult thing."