'Zipper mayor', his mistresses the talk of the town

Two corruption-related news stories have made headlines and led to sharp debates in the state media and internet chat rooms in the past few days. One involves a senior official in Shaanxi , reportedly brought down because of evidence supplied by his mistresses - 11 in total. The other is the official announcement that the mainland has launched another anti-corruption body, this time focusing on education and preventive measures against official corruption.

The two developments have shed more light on the scale of rampant official corruption bred by absolute power and the mainland leadership's desperate and seemingly futile attempts to curb it.

The state media reports about the corruption involving Pang Jiayu, a former deputy chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Shaanxi, have been a subject of great dismay and heated debate - and not just because he is corrupt and morally degenerate. After all, mainlanders are no longer easily shocked by the repeated revelations of official corruption and cadres' dalliances with younger women.

But Pang's case takes the cake. According to the reports, shortly after Pang became the mayor of Baoji in 1994, he took an interest in the wife of an official who was once Pang's superior and reportedly slighted him. Pang spiked her drink and enticed the woman into becoming his mistress.

Shortly afterwards, Pang found the woman a job and they continued to meet up. To avenge the slight and humiliate her husband, Pang - with a double-edged meaning - told a meeting attended by the husband how well he was satisfied with the woman's performance.

In 1997, when the decision was made to reassign many Baoji government officials, some of them, hoping for promotions, sent their wives to 'chat' with Pang, earning him the nickname 'the zipper mayor'.

After he became the more powerful party secretary of Baoji in 1998, he began to award his growing army of mistresses or their husbands with government infrastructure contracts or financial projects. In one water diversion project, Pang reportedly had to hold a meeting to divide the project between his wife and his mistresses, causing the budget to double.

In May 2003, he became the provincial CPPCC deputy chairman, but the Baoji investment company he authorised collapsed with more than 90 million yuan in losses. Pang asked the husbands of his mistresses to assume full responsibility and promised to help but did not. The husband of one mistress was sentenced to death, and the husbands of the other two received long jail sentences.

This prompted the angry mistresses to team up with others, 11 of them in total, to report the case to the central government. Pang was sacked from all positions in February and is under official investigation. The fact that Pang could be so blatant in defying the law for so long - over 13 years - says a lot about the evil side of absolute power and Beijing's claims of success in fighting corruption.

While refusing to allow press freedom and boost public supervision, the most effective way to fight corruption, the mainland leadership last week announced the formation of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. While few details are available on how the agency will work, Xinhua has already quoted academics as questioning its effectiveness.

'I have no idea how the bureau will function. But personally I think this would be a tough job,' Xinhua quoted Tsinghua professor Ren Jianming as saying.

Indeed, the mainland is not short of anti-corruption agencies: the Ministry of Supervision is responsible for the conduct of civil servants, while the more powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection can detain and investigate Communist Party members. In addition, the People's Prosecutorate has anti-graft offices at all levels, targeting commercial corruption.

The Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News argued last week that the bureau, headed by new Minister of Supervision Ma Wen , was unlikely to function well unless it was independent like Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption.