Business / Economy

Officials disclose assets to each other

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-18 11:33

A new policy requiring officials in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, to declare their personal assets in a move to improve transparency and fight corruption, has been criticized because the information will only be available on the internal website of the local government.

All officials at section head level and higher are required to declare their property on the notice board and internal website of the workplace before taking up a promotion, according to a new policy issued by the city's commission for discipline inspection and the organization department of the city committee of the Communist Party of China. The new policy will take effect on Aug 1.

Officials must declare any real estate, vehicles, investments, savings and debts, and those of their spouse and children.

Everything the officials declare will be recorded and those found to have concealed assets will be disqualified from taking office.

Many officials, especially those in the lower ranks, welcome the new regulation.

"There have been continuous demands for the disclosure of officials' income and assets for years. I knew the day would arrive sooner or later," said a deputy department head with the city's administration for industry and commerce. The woman declined to be identified because officials are not allowed to give individual interviews.

"Maybe officials at higher levels will feel more pressure about the policy," she said.

"It could cause a confrontation between the government and people and trigger a credibility crisis for some officials if the procedures are not followed in the proper way," said Lin Zhe, a professor of anti-corruption research at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Experts said efforts should also be made for thorough audits after declarations.

"The verification (of the declarations) is usually overlooked because we don't expect lack of integrity is common among officials," said Lin.

"The commission for discipline inspection, the finance department of the official's workplace and banks must implement a joint audit to compare the declaration with the official's real living situation," she said. "He who declares a monthly income of 5,000 yuan ($785) and has sent his wife and children abroad may be suspicious."

Lin said the officials will help to self-regulate each other.

"When only one of the officials of the same level can get a promotion, they won't shield each other and will instead bring each other's misconduct to light during the publicity period," she said.

Xia Xueluan, a sociologist at Peking University, said the true value of the declarations will be when they are made several years apart.

"What should be scrutinized is whether an official's property undergoes a dramatic change after several years in power," said Xia.

"The declaration should serve as a basis for comparison next time, which is the real purpose of the declaration," he said.

In China, all officials at the level of deputy-county head or higher must compile an annual report of their personal income, the employment status of their children and spouses as well as their property interests and investments, according to regulations.

However, there is no requirement to make the information public.

Wu Yuliang, deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC Central Committee, said in 2011 that public disclosure of this sensitive information has to wait until two mechanisms are introduced, one covering social credit - information such as loan and credit history, the other highlighting personal information.

"Any good system has to have accompanying measures and a proper environment to become feasible," Wu said at a news conference.

Despite the difficulties, many local authorities in China have attempted to reveal officials' financial information.

Wang Huazhong in Beijing contributed to this story.

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