Despite praise for Guangdong party boss Wang Yang's promise last week of a pilot scheme to force officials to declare their assets, some experts said the programme fell short of what was needed to fight corruption.
Wang, who is considered a leading voice for reform and a contender for the Politburo's supreme Standing Committee, announced the move to the province's Communist Party Congress, where he also vowed stronger supervision and audits of party officials who run agencies and state-owned enterprises.
'[We should] combat corruption, build a cleaner government and strengthen supervision to improve the party's management,' Wang said. '[We should] practically strengthen the supervision of party cadres, especially decision makers ... and launch a pilot scheme to require cadres to declare their assets.'
But Wang provided few details about the scheme, such as when it would start and which officials would be included in it. Some observers also questioned whether even a limited disclosure mandate could work without first enacting broader political reforms.
'It won't be solved overnight and I doubt to what extent the pilot scheme could be implemented,' said Wang Xiaolu of the National Economic Research Institute in Beijing.
'Party cadres' asset declaration is so complicated that it requires authorities to solve problems with the political system, improve government transparency and increase the public's supervision of the government,' he said.
The perception of widespread corruption among mainland officials has been reinforced by a series of high-profile graft scandals.
A years-long anti-graft crackdown in Guangdong has resulted in the discipline or arrest of officials, including more than 200 implicated this year in a corruption probe against former Maoming city party secretary Luo Yinguo . Last year, former Shenzhen mayor Xu Zongheng received a suspended death sentence for taking 33 million yuan (HK$40.6 million) in bribes.
Academics have blamed a system that concentrates too much power in the hands of relatively few grass-roots party chiefs and lacks effective disclosure and anti-graft mechanisms.
Since 2008, at least seven local governments nationwide have attempted to force officials to declare their assets, including Shanghai's Pudong district and Hunan's Liuyang city and Xiangxiang county. All have failed in the face of huge opposition from party cadres.
Last year, Shenzhen's Qianhai experimental zone issued a draft law based on Hong Kong's disclosure mandates that would have required all top-level officials to declare their income and finances. The proposal would have required the zone's directors, ombudsmen and management committee members to disclose connections and interests related to issues before the zone.
However, the plan was scrapped in June by Shenzhen authorities, who told zone leaders their job was to focus on the local economy, not such policy issues.
Tang Xiaoyang, a professor at Guangdong's Party School, said Wang's pilot scheme proposal could further erode the public's trust in government if not handled properly.
'The key is how to implement it,' Tang told The Southern Metropolis News. 'The public will further lose their trust towards the system if the policy is never carried out.'
Nonetheless, Wang Yang's pilot scheme, if implemented, would make Guangdong the first province to require its officials to declare their assets, said Professor Wang Yukai of the China National School of Administration.
'Before now, such pilot schemes have only been carried out in small counties, districts or cities,' Wang said. 'It would be an exciting move if top leaders such as the Guangdong party boss, governor, city bosses and mayors are required to declare their assets to the public.'