Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

China’s graft watchdog needs outside oversight, greater transparency to safeguard own team, say analysts

‘Who’s watching the watchers?’ expected to be key issue at commission meeting

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 11:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 12:48am

The Communist Party’s top graft watchdog needs independent oversight and transparency to protect its own team from corruption, analysts say, as the agency convenes its last key meeting of the current session in Beijing.

How to ensure the graft fighting team remains clean is a key matter to be discussed at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s three-day plenary meeting that began on Friday.

President Xi Jinping declared at Friday’s meeting that the campaign on corruption “has prevailed”, reiterating a statement he made at a Politburo meeting on Wednesday last week.

This signals a step forward in the anti-corruption campaign from Xi’s remarks at the CCDI plenum last year, when he said the war on corruption was “on its way to prevail”.

The past year saw the sentencing of two remaining “big tigers” – former presidential aide Ling Jihua and Guo Boxiong, former vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission. Both are serving life sentences behind bars.

A new code of conduct on how discipline officers should carry out their duties is expected to be passed at the plenum, the last such meeting of its 128 members before their term ends late this year.

Analysts said the CCDI’s current measures, which relied solely on internal supervision, were unlikely to root out graft within its own ranks.

No money, no talk: TV series reveals how China’s corrupt graft-busters traded secrets for cash

In the lead up to the plenum, the CCDI aired a three-part documentary series on state television this week, revealing shocking details of how graft busters abused their power over other officials and their access to confidential information on graft probes in exchange for bribes and favours.

With unusual frankness, the CCDI acknowledged the deep flaws of its inspection system. The remedy, it said, was to issue a new code of conduct for discipline officers – adding to the masses of rules and regulations the watchdog has come up with in recent years – and introduce more “sensible and effective checks and balances” to the system.

The idea is to divide supervision and investigation duties into the hands of various offices and departments within the watchdog, with each in charge of only one part of the process.

“This is in effect a division of power, and it represents a check and balance on power,” a CCDI official boasted in the documentary. “A single department can no longer dictate an entire case.”

But Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption expert at Peking University, said the measure could only exert a degree of procedural constraint and was far from enough to ensure effective checks and balances.

“The problem is, no matter what, it is still an internal supervision within the CCDI system, so it is difficult for it to make a real difference,” he said.

China’s top graft buster turns camera on rot in own ranks

What the CCDI lacks is external supervision, such as from the public and the media, or an independent third party, Zhuang said. He cited the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong as an example of such external supervision.

The work of the ICAC is overseen by four advisory committees and a complaints committee comprised of prominent members of the public. An independent judiciary is there to ensure the agency does not step out of line, while a free media places it under close public scrutiny.

“On the mainland, our social organisations are underdeveloped and our media are subjected to censorship, so it is hard to form an effective third party,” Zhuang said.

Dan Hough, a corruption expert at the University of Sussex, said independent oversight and transparency was key for checks and balances, but he doubted whether independent scrutineers of the CCDI existed.

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“They could well be people who themselves are institutionalised and open to bribery and other forms of unacceptable persuasion ... We may simply have another level of complex bureaucracy and with that another layer of opaque relationships,” Hough said.

The lack of civil society groups and free media also limited the CCDI’s ability to obtain help from other interested parties and made it “one-dimensional,” he added.

“The [Communist Party] is still scared of its own people and is really reluctant to embrace what I call ‘people power’. It doesn’t want any preventative measures to see control slip out of its own hands,” Hough said.