Inefficient officials must be weeded out to keep China's anti-corruption campaign on track

Hu Shuli says as it becomes harder to make headway, the government must be relentless in its fight against graft or risk disastrous consequences

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 11:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 2015, 3:55am

Beijing's fight against corruption has been going on for two years now. Some significant results have been achieved, with strong public support, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to move forward with the campaign.

Members of the public and government officials need to agree on why the drive must continue. Some officials make only token efforts to perform their duties, supposedly because they fear being caught up in the anti-corruption drive. However, the central leadership must not be deterred. Only by continuing with the campaign, deepening reforms, building a society under the rule of law, and allowing capable and moral officials to do their job, can there be hope for the country.

Some officials simply neglect their duties. It's not a recent phenomenon but it has been getting worse in recent years. The underlying cause can be found in the system itself. Officials have been getting away with acting like this for a long time with no punishment. As a result, government has become less efficient and the authorities in some areas have been crippled. As the economy slows and political reform becomes more urgent, problems cannot be addressed quickly if slackness among officials is not dealt with.

The central leadership is aware of the severity of the problem. At a press conference during the annual National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions, Premier Li Keqiang highlighted the need to discipline and hold accountable officials involved in misconduct and negligence. Now, the fight against corruption must be strengthened, or it risks failing. Procrastination among officials because of the campaign is malicious, non-cooperative action and shows how some have sought power out of greed. Authorities must carry on with the anti-graft drive.

The root cause of slack governance stems from flaws in the recruitment and appointment process for officials, and how their performance is evaluated. Restrictions on their duties are also insufficient. The main problem is that there has never been an overhaul of how powers are exercised and officials have never been properly encouraged to excel.

Unlimited power and intertwined interests, including nepotism, ties between politicians and companies, and even between politicians and gangsters, have led to the formation of a gigantic network of power and interests, which has not been eliminated despite the anti-corruption drive.

Continuing political and economic reforms could be the best weapon against this. Power of officials must be redefined to ensure they carry out their duties correctly and do not regulate excessively or interfere with the market economy and civil rights.

The root cause of corruption is improper use of power. The power that is supposed to be used to protect the market is being used to destroy or manipulate it. The power that is supposed to be used to combat illegal acts and maintain law and order is being abused for personal gain.

The State Council is making efforts to streamline administration, delegate and redefine powers and reduce administrative approvals. If it can go further, the room for rent-seeking activities can be reduced and the motives behind corruption eradicated. The positive effects would be felt over time.

At the same time, steps must be taken to overhaul the assessment and appointment system for officials. There are several kinds of unproductive officials. Corrupt ones are in the minority and there are also many ambitious and capable officials eager to serve the public who have been hobbled by fear of criticism. Changes must be made to prevent honest and diligent officials from being deterred.

To ensure continuation of the anti-corruption drive, adjustments must be made. Policymakers have to fully appreciate policy limits, and the evils of the "four winds" (formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and waste), as well as the difference between normal contacts and collusion.

More importantly, the judicial system should be impartial and able to demonstrate the meaning of "everyone is equal before the law" through the relevant precedents. While the law should be strictly enforced, basic human rights and litigation rights must be protected, so officials being investigated over alleged corruption have no cause to complain of unfairness.

This can also serve as a stern warning for other officials, as well as effective education in the law for society as a whole. With such improvements, we can build a society governed by law.

We cannot afford to lose the fight against corruption. If we don't pursue corrupt officials or do nothing about the slack ones, the consequences could be disastrous: corruption could deepen, and earlier successes would become meaningless. When corruption and slack governance are properly addressed, we can expect good days ahead.