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Govt firm in resolve to fight corruption

By Wu Wencong and Hu Yongqi in Beijing, Zhang Chunyan in London and Chen Jia in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-28 07:15

 Govt firm in resolve to fight corruption

Premier Li Keqiang set out six guidelines to lead the anti-corruption fight during the State Council's first meeting on clean governance on Tuesday. Rao Aimin / Xinhua

Premier sets the agenda in campaign to tackle graft

The new government has sounded the anti-corruption warning bell within two weeks of taking power, vowing to build a "clean" government.

"Power, money and the behavior of officials should all be restricted by regulations. A system that does not allow opportunities for, and frightens people away from, corruption should be formulated," said Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday.

Li set out six guidelines to lead the anti-corruption fight, emphasized by "disclosure of all government work, except for that related to State secrets, business secrets and individual privacy", starting with the disclosure of official spending on government receptions at the county level and above.

The move has raised high expectations. "So far, there have already been a number of encouraging statements by the new Chinese leadership," said Oliver Brauner, a researcher at the China and International Peace and Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.

"Their focus most likely is on the domestic challenges they face: namely on how to maintain economic growth while changing the growth model toward a more sustainable, innovative and consumption-driven economy. This will urgently require bold reforms in the economic, social and political spheres."

Some experts were optimistic. "Li Keqiang has gotten off to a very good start as China's premier," said Theodore Moran, Marcus Wallenberg Professor of International Business and Finance at Georgetown University in the United States.

Eddy Li, vice-president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, said, "Corruption is not only threatening the healthy development of the national economy, but influences Hong Kong people's perception of the central government and hurts their faith in the nation.

"At the moment, the authorities are determined to take an unwavering stand. Whether the context of the corruption is big or small - any form will be severely punished according to the law. If the authorities actually enforce the law, there will be a much brighter future awaiting China," he said.

'Equity and balance'

Observers overseas also recognize the difficulties the government faces. "Economic reform is difficult. Taking on corruption even more so. The Party and the State must follow his (Li's) words and seek social equity and balance," said Robert Berring, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, who teaches courses on the Chinese legal system.

Since the CPC's 18th National Congress in November, China's top officials have repeatedly expressed their determination to fight corruption.

"To address these problems, we must first of all conduct ourselves honorably," said President Xi Jinping, when he first met the media as general secretary of the CPC's top body on Nov 15. He spoke about how the Party should supervise its own conduct and run itself in a disciplined way to solve major problems, especially corruption.

In the following two weeks, Xi and several other top Party leaders repeatedly spoke of their willingness to improve anti-corruption work, making their comments both at public forums and internal meetings. "A large number of facts show that corruption could cause the collapse of the Party and the country if it were to become increasingly severe, and we must be alert," said Xi during the first study session of the new CPC leadership committee on Nov 17.

"The most surprising announcement was not that the CPC wishes to eradicate corruption, which it now freely admits is rampant - but that it admitted it might cause the 'collapse' of the party," said Richard Harris, chief executive of Port Shelter Investment Management in Hong Kong.

"This is the word that dare not speak its name. It was, therefore, a surprise to hear that tone being taken. There have been many campaigns against corruption, but if the price of failure is now seen publicly to be the collapse of the CPC, then this one will be more serious," he said.

The 18th National Congress saw several of the country's new leadership team speak out about the scourge of corruption. As a result, at least 27 officials at or above the level of director-general had been punished for violations of discipline or corrupt activities by Feb 20, according to media reports.

For example, Li Chuncheng, former deputy Party chief of Sichuan province, was removed from his post in December for unspecified violations of discipline.

Cases such as this make it imperative that a mechanism be established to curb the powers in the hands of officials, said Zhu Lijia, professor in public policy at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Open to scrutiny

The role of People's Congresses at all levels must be strengthened to provide better supervision of local governments and the actions of government officials must be open to scrutiny by the media and the public, he added.

"Their (the public and media) involvement in the anti-corruption drive will provide clues about corrupt officials. Without these measures, corruption will be like grass in a wheat field and will never be totally eradicated," said Zhu.

He called for fiscal budgets to be so tightly controlled that officials have no chance to misuse taxpayers' money, and he advocated the introduction of a number of other measures, including stronger anti-corruption legislation and a notification system that would require all Party and government officials to report their assets. He urged the new government to make measures such as these a major plank of its agenda.

Meanwhile, online anti-corruption platforms would help to correct the misdeeds of officials and should be encouraged, said Bai Zhili, associate dean of the School of Government at Peking University.

Bai said corruption stems from government officials abusing their power when operations are not transparent: "When officials are not fully aware of the limits of their legitimate power, they may be unaware that using their position for their own interest is wrong and contrary to public service. That sort of behavior seriously puts people's livelihoods and the image of the government at risk. Therefore, it's imperative that we perfect a mechanism to curb cadres' individual powers," he said.

Yao Shujie, head of the school of contemporary Chinese studies at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom, said curbing corruption is like a good doctor helping his patients.

"Corruption should be prevented by creating a clean government through the introduction of intra-party democracy and subjecting party and state officials to public scrutiny and transparent disciplinary procedures. Relatives of officials should not be allowed to enter business, or if they do, their business activities should be disclosed to the public," he said.

Zhang Yuwei in New York and China Daily reporters in Hong Kong contributed to this story.

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