Nepal | July 16, 2019

TOPICS : New Chinese anti-graft body lacks teeth

Antoaneta Bezlova

Corruption in China may be as old and enduring as the country’s legendary bureaucratic system but Chinese leaders are determined to use modern approaches in tackling it. Alarmed by growing international repercussions to China’s graft and fraud practices and mindful of swelling disaffection at home, they have unveiled a new anti-corruption body tasked with preventing corruption rather than punishing it. Its newly appointed leaders speak of eradicating corruption ‘at its roots’ and promise to introduce the requirement that government officials declare their personal assets as a deterrent.

But while the new National Bureau of Corruption Prevention prides itself on drawing experiences from respected graft fighters like Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, it lacks their independence and power of enforcement, say experts. “The focus is not on handling individual legal cases but on education and coordination with international partners,” says Li Chengyan, professor at Centre for Building Honest and Clean Government at Beijing University. “It is early days but I doubt the bureau would be vested with the power of enforcement,” said.

China already has a complicated anti-corruption system in place under the ministry of supervision, which probes cases of civil servants, and the much-feared Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in charge of investigating Communist party members. Additionally, anti-graft offices at different levels deal with cases of commercial corruption. But these bodies are consistently criticised for failing to stem rampant corruption and often perceived by the public as politically motivated. The disciplinary inspection commission has a history of witch-hunting since the early days of the communist party’s rule.

Much like the political purges in the radical days of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s anti-corruption drives often shadow power struggles and serve political ends. Recent corruption probes for instance, have netted members of the so-called “Shanghai faction”, which had challenged Beijing’s agenda of taming runaway economic growth and creating a “harmonious society”. Anecdotally too, many of the officials sacked for corruption were found to have been implicated in sex scandals, perpetuating a worldly Chinese belief that sleazy money in high ranks equals many mistresses.

Experts warn that to achieve “zero tolerance” to corruption the new body would need to be backed by strong public participation. Hong Kong’s anti-graft body is the envy of many mainland Chinese corruption prevention officials but its track record includes years of boosting public supervision, Beijing lawyer Chen Chuangdong said.

In China, corruption cases are handled from the top, which means that ordinary people have little recourse to justice. It took 13 years before central investigators got to Pang Jiayu, former mayor of Baoji city in Shaanxi province, who was reported to have supported 11 mistresses and misused millions of dollars worth of state funds. — IPS

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