Declaring officials' assets will cause 'chaos'

By Xie Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-23 07:52
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Beijing - An outspoken deputy mayor in Central China's Hunan province has again been put in the spotlight for a controversial remark that requiring officials to declare their assets "will cause social chaos".

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Jiang Zongfu, deputy mayor of Linxiang, a county-level city in Hunan, called for "caution" in introducing the officials' assets declaration system.

"That's because first of all, a true declaration of officials' assets will cause social chaos," he was quoted as saying by the Changsha-based Xiaoxiang Morning News on Thursday.

The 41-year-old deputy mayor acknowledged that his view is different from most people.

He revealed he had decided not to publish his opinion on his blog out of fear of a backlash from the public.

His comment came amid growing calls from grassroots and academic circles for a mandatory and public assets declaration system for officials.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Supervision promised to strengthen an initiative asking officials to declare assets, but there is no legislation in the offing this year.

"My point is that the public does not trust the government now," Jiang told China Daily on Thursday by phone.

If they find an official very rich, they will definitely think he is corruptible and thus increase their resentment. However, if they find he is not rich, they will just think he is lying, which makes the government less credible, he added.

Jiang said he "is not willing" to declare his property - which he considered to be private.

But he suggested his assets can be "attested to by declaration".

"I earn 2,600 yuan ($382) per month from my salary and I have to pay for the mortgage of my only apartment," he said. His only assets are his salary, the apartment, plus less than 40,000 yuan invested in the stock market.

Jiang thought that compared to a declaration, a notarization of officials' assets before their promotion is more feasible. If an official's assets had increased sharply, he or she would have to explain where the increase came from.

However, Jiang said the notarized results should not be made public.

"The conditions in China are so different from Western countries," he said, suggesting that the declaration system implemented in more than 100 countries should not be copied here.

Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Zhang's stance towards assets declaration is typical among officials.

"There is a widespread reluctance among officials to accept mandatory assets declaration. That's why, even after such a long discussion, we haven't seen legislation yet," he said.

"I can tell you the objection comes from many leading officials with decision-making authority," he added.

Zhu also said the reason provided by Jiang is "absurd".

"Why do the people distrust officials? It's because the public doesn't know how officials use their power and how much they get when on the job," he said.

"If officials, from the highest level to the grassroots, can declare their property and can explain the source of their income no matter how big or small, they will gradually win back people's trust," Zhu said.

The first motion of the assets declaration legislation was made in 1988 to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, and was included on the agenda again in 1998.

Jiang has garnered attention recently for online criticisms of director Zhang Yimou and China's high housing prices.

He said Zhang, one of China's most renowned directors, was wasting too much money organizing grand performances in tourist spots.

He also claimed the government is "the biggest beneficiary" of the real estate industry.