The mainland's top disciplinary body yesterday released the details of penalties to be imposed on officials who keep private accounts, or slush funds - the latest of about a dozen attempts in a decade to stop the practice. In a statement released by Xinhua, the Communist Party's Central Committee for Disciplinary Inspection said officials caught with the accounts, called 'small coffers', would be punished according to party supervisory regulations published in 2004. However, those who reported their private accounts to inspectors would be treated with leniency, the statement said. It also defined a 'small coffer' as a fund, securities or assets that should be but are not listed in party or government agencies' account books in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. The practice of keeping slush funds by party and government agencies has been rampant in the past decade, as organisations reserve unmonitored funds in private accounts to pay for extra consumption or employee bonuses. The central government has launched 12 campaigns against the practice since the late 1980s, but it has persisted. The National Audit Office has said it found 140.6 billion yuan (HK$160 billion) in small coffers from 1998 to 2006. An estimate by the business newspaper The Economic Observer put the amount kept in small coffers at 500 billion yuan a year, about 2 per cent of the mainland's gross domestic product. The central government has said that slush funds disrupt market dynamics and weaken its ability to manage the economy, causing a loss of state assets and creating opportunities for corruption by officials. Xu Youyu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the new regulation would have little effect on uprooting such private accounts. 'I can only say something is always better than nothing ... but in the long term, I don't see this problem going away, for the government does not really address the root problem,' Professor Xu said. The root problem, in his view, is the lack of both supervision and a power-balance mechanism relating to major officials who set up the slush funds. 'If no check-and-balance mechanism is put in place, I can guarantee you we will see the 13th such campaign shortly after the current one.'