Commerce officials 'traded power for money', anti-graft watchdog says

Commerce minister vows action after top anti-graft watchdog faults ministry for mismanagement, abuse and weak appointment oversight

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 8:30am

The Ministry of Commerce has become the latest state agency hit by the national corruption crackdown after the top anti-graft watchdog accused it of mismanagement and abuse, including bosses who misused their posts for personal gain.

The Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement yesterday that inspection teams have since October uncovered various practices that breached the central leadership's campaign against the extravagant public expenses, including holding costly exhibitions and conferences.

Some leaders and departments had "traded power for money", the agency said.

Loopholes in the management of foreign-aid projects and "domestic trades" risked leading to more serious corruption, inspection team leader Chen Guanglin said, without giving further details. Ministry rules regarding internal appointments were also not rigorous enough, Chen said.

Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said the ministry accepted the criticisms.

"The Commerce Ministry must deal with the problems raised during the inspections," Gao said. "The criticisms need to be analysed and properly addressed."

CCDI inspection teams also reported corruption in Yunnan province, with graft pervading construction projects, mineral-resources schemes and the education and health care sectors, according to state media.

The team found the situation to be "grim", Xinhua reported.

Yang Weijun, a former vice-chairman of the Yunnan political advisory body, said the investigation could have gone further. "Some local officials tried to intercept petitioners from meeting the inspection team members to cover up their problems. The task forces need to co-operate more with public whistleblowers," Yang said.

The use of inspection teams to fight corruption was introduced more than a decade ago. But the practice has become more high-profile since Xi Jinping took control of the party in late 2012 and declared that tackling corruption was a top priority of his administration.

The leadership conducted two rounds of investigations in 20 government institutions last year. The first round uncovered corruption in numerous local governments and state-owned enterprises and led to the downfall of several high-ranking officials including the former deputy Hubei governor, Guo Youming.

State media have also reported that the anti-graft commission was expected to speed up the corruption crackdown by conducting three more rounds of inspections this year. The party is planning to amend its regulations this year on how inspections are carried out.

"The inspection teams are becoming an increasingly important part of the anti-corruption drive," said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University. "It's not a surprising move as the leadership believes that the practice guarantees the grass-roots level has more access to justice."