Corruption surveillance to triple as China's new anti-graft agency tightens screws

Watchdog to get 10 per cent more staff to handle ‘huge job’, minister says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 8:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 9:20am

China’s new anti-graft agency will keep an eye on triple the number of targets than the existing watchdogs, the supervision minister said on Monday.

There will also be more staff to handle the extra workload but it will be “a huge job”, Minister of Supervision Yang Xiaodu said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

The agency, the National Supervisory Commission, will be run according to a new supervision law that has been submitted to the largely ceremonial legislature for passage at the annual parliamentary session under way in Beijing. 

It will see the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog, the CCDI, merged with government departments tasked with tackling corruption. The new agency will coordinate with judicial and procuratorial bodies and law enforcement departments.

“The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and local commissions will have a 10 per cent increase in manpower [after the merger],” Yang said. “The targets have been increased by 200 per cent so, based on our experience, we know this is going to be a huge job.”

Yang did not say exactly how many staff would be involved.

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The national agency will oversee commissions around the country – at provincial, city and county levels – that will be able to investigate, question, search, detain and take disciplinary action against not just party cadres suspected of corruption but all civil servants. There is no information available on how many people are employed in China’s public service. The commissions will also have the power to investigate businesspeople suspected of graft.

Pilot schemes have already been rolled out in areas including Beijing and Zhejiang and Shanxi provinces, with disciplinary watchdogs merged with other agencies at the local levels.

The agency will take a more institutionalised approach to fighting graft, rather than the campaign-style crackdown seen in President Xi Jinping’s first term.

Facilities for questioning suspects have also been upgraded. Wang Lishan, who heads the CCDI in Hubei, said the size and number of detention rooms in the province had been expanded now that investigators will be questioning a wider range of, and more, suspects.

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He said disciplinary action against party members and detention of non-party members was “not exactly the same”.

“We’ve upgraded the facilities where we conduct interrogations so that they meet the standards under the new law,” Wang said, adding that it required audio and video recordings to be made of all interviews conducted during investigations.

“We expect the total number of rooms to increase by about one-third,” he said, without elaborating.

Within the hierarchy, the new graft-buster sits after the State Council, China’s cabinet, and the Central Military Commission, but before the courts and the procuratorates – prompting fears that it could become a “super agency” with too much power, and take action that was above the law.

But Yang dismissed those concerns. “I do not think we are a ‘super agency’,” he said. “The majority of our work is daily and trivial – monitoring work, stopping people who make small mistakes from making bigger mistakes.”

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Yang added that prosecutors would be asked to assess investigation requests and conduct checks to make sure there were legal grounds for them, and that they would be able to reject those requests.

The NPC will nominate the director to head the new agency and supervise its operation, and they will be limited to two consecutive terms.

Additional reporting by Nectar Gan