Graft fight must be open and accountable

President Xi Jinping has placed himself at the head of a central leading group to oversee a new anti-corruption regime. An overhaul of the process hopefully reflects progress towards institutionalising the mechanism needed to gain an upper hand over corrupt cadres and their relatives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 1:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 1:37am

Corrupt officials still out there who dared hope that the Communist Party’s anti-graft campaign might be losing steam after five years would have been disappointed by President Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th congress. He has put himself at the head of a central leading group to oversee a new anti-corruption regime, a role he has taken in other areas to which he attaches paramount importance, such as cybersecurity and military reform. And he left no doubt about zero tolerance of graft for another five years to the 20th congress, and the gravity of the threat it is seen to pose to the party’s rule. Corruption was what the people resented most and the party’s “greatest threat”, he said. Only by ensuring clean governance could the party “avoid the historical cycle of rise and fall”.

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As well as continuing the pursuit of corrupt party officials, the new system will have jurisdiction over all public services including lawyers and judges. But it discontinues the controversial shuanggui interrogation method practised by the party’s disciplinary organ and replaces it with detention called jiuzhi, in what is described as a move towards a law-based anti-corruption system. Under shuanggui, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) can detain and secretly interrogate officials indefinitely without charge or legal representation, leading to claims of torture and forced confessions.

A new law creating a national supervision committee, set to be passed at the annual legislative session next March, is expected to set a 90-day limit on interrogations, which can only be triggered by suspected criminal violations. It remains to be seen if it affords more respect for the rights of suspects. Rights advocates still fear they will fare little better until allowed to see lawyers before interrogation ends. But officials familiar with pilot jiuzhi programmes claim suspects are now treated more fairly, under the watchful eye of supervisory officials and police officers who take part in the process.

The trials are part of a much bigger overhaul of the anti-corruption process, including the introduction of an anti-graft law, expected at the March session. The national supervision committee is part of Beijing’s wider push to rule the country by law, including reform of court procedures. Hopefully, it reflects progress towards institutionalising the anti-corruption mechanism, including rules and guidelines for senior officials such as declarations of assets, including those of families. Such transparency and accountability is sorely needed if the party is ever to get the upper hand over corrupt cadres and their relatives. It would be the ultimate test of the pledge in Xi’s report to eliminate “interest groups within the party”, who can be expected to offer stiff, organised resistance to closer scrutiny.