China getting tough on corrupt officials
China has intensified efforts to weed out all forms of corrupt activities and plans even tighter controls in this regard, work reports by the nation's law-enforcers this week made clear.
In his report, Jia Chunwang, procurator-general of China's Supreme People's Procuratorate, disclosed that 11 officials at provincial or ministerial level were investigated last year.
They were among the 2,960 officials at, or above county level probed on charges of corruption, taking bribes and misuse of public funds in 2004, Jia told the third annual session of the 10th National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, on Wednesday.
While the procuratorates did their utmost to dig for the hidden graft, the country's courts jailed six provincial and ministerial officials convicted of similar charges, said Xiao Yang, the chief justice and president of the Supreme People's Court, in his report.
The convicted civil servants, including Tian Fengshan, former minister of land and resources, Liu Fangren, former secretary of the CPC (Communist Party of China) Guizhou Provincial Committee, and Zhang Guoguang, former deputy secretary of the CPC Hubei Provincial Committee and governor of the province, were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 11 years to life, according to earlier reports following their convictions.
A total of 772 corrupt officials and 24,184 cases of graft, bribe-taking and other corrupt activities by government officials in 2004 were successfully prosecuted, said the chief justice.
An ever larger portion of the Chinese population has been enjoying the fruits of the country's reform drives in the last two decades. But as their numbers have grown, so too has public discontent over a whole raft of corrupt activities, in particular government officials abusing their power and behaving improperly. Unless addressed, China's continued smooth development will be disrupted.
An online survey conducted ahead of the NPC and CPPCC conferences by www.xinhuanet.com into the topics most likely to spark heated discussions had "putting an end to corruption" top of the list for nearly a quarter of the 200,000 respondents polled.
And the issue is of paramount importance to the Chinese leadership who have repeatedly spoken out against it and moved to tackle corruption in all their manifestations.
"Corruption damages the interests of the people and the close links between the Party and the people, weakens the governance base and capability of the Party, affects social stability and disturbs the general situation of reform, development and stability," Premier Wen Jiabao told a recent State Council meeting.
To assuage discontent with under-the-table trading, the central authorities have, in recent years, set in motion a range of moves to curb corruption and boost popular confidence in government.
At last year's NPC session, Wen vowed to adopt the most stringent of measures in the fight against graft when he delivered his government work report. His words evoked notably long and loud applause from the 2,000-strong lawmakers. The past 12 months have shown the central authorities have done their utmost to live up to those anti-corruption promises.
Last year, the CPC Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) handled a caseload of 166,705 crimes and punished 170,850 CPC members found to have misbehaved, including 16 provincial and ministerial officials and 432 at or above prefecture level, a meeting on clean government held in February disclosed.
A total of 345 procurators and 461 judges were also convicted and punished for graft offences in the same period, sending out an unprecedented message of deterrence.
In addition to strengthening control mechanisms to curb corruption, increasing attention was paid to remedying flaws in the structures of power and rooting out corruption at an early stage. These measures were generally considered "the biggest achievement" of the recent anti-corruption campaign.
"Levels of corruption could not simply be ascribed to the low moral standards of the corrupt officials (involved), but also loopholes in administrative mechanism," said Li Peilin, deputy director of the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
In a high-profile effort to curb corruption, the Communist Party of China released a guideline in December 2004, vowing to "build and improve a system to punish and prevent corruption through promoting education, in strict compliance with regulations and supervision."
To tackle the problem of a growing number of corrupt government officials and State-owned enterprise leaders fleeing abroad with huge sums of public money, the CCDI began documenting the travel plans and daily expenses of some. Also monitored are the job applications and destinations for overseas study of family members of those targeted in several pilot locations beginning in July 2004.
Jia noted in his report that 614 leading officials-turned suspects, who had absconded abroad, were arrested last year, some of whom had fled with large sums of money.
Though the Chinese Government has not disclosed the total number of corrupt officials who have fled overseas after salting away a cache of misappropriated money, Jia confirmed that in 2003 some 596 fugitive officials were returned to China from overseas.
In a separate endeavour to crack down on gambling, special attention was paid to civil servants who squandered public money in casinos located in neighbouring countries.
Cai Haowen, a former official from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province in the northeast, embezzled 2.76 million yuan (US$332,530) from his department and borrowed another 750,000 yuan (US$90,360) from companies under his supervision from January to November in 2004.
In 27 trips to a neighbouring country he squandered every penny in a local casino. He fled, but was caught by police last month on a train.
To further help the country's battle against corruption, NPC deputy Zhou Hongyu proposed an anti-corruption law be enacted at the earliest opportunity.
"A specific law on anti-corruption and an independent anti-graft network which reports directly to parliament will constitute a legal basis for China's fight against corruption," said Zhou, from Hubei Province. He also suggested independent auditing and self-reporting systems be set up to keep civil servants from corruption.
"The anti-corruption fight is still an arduous task," said Premier Wen in his
government work report on March 5.