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'Naked officials' of corruption

Updated: 2014-06-13 07:28
By Wu Yixue ( China Daily)

One cannot desire to have fish and bear's paw both at the same time, goes an old Chinese saying, implying that a person cannot have the best of both worlds. The proverb applies perfectly to luoguan or "naked officials" in Guangdong province who were recently demoted or forced to resign or retire prematurely. About 900 (mostly mid-level) officials in Guangdong were identified as luoguan, a popular term used to refer to officials whose spouses or children have acquired permanent residency or citizenship abroad, and penalized. Another 200 have been able to retain their posts after promising to bring their family members back home.

Such a large-scale campaign against luoguan followed the "persuaded retirement" of Fang Xuan, deputy Party chief of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong. Fang, too, was considered part of the luoguan "brotherhood".

The campaign against luoguan is the first by a provincial government. And in January, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China for the first time issued a regulation which stipulated that luoguan are not eligible for promotion. Also, the campaign is Guangdong's direct and timely response to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's report in February, which said the luoguan phenomenon remains a sticking issue in some areas of the province.

Since Guangdong is a forerunner of China's reform and opening-up and a province neighboring Hong Kong that has traditionally had links with overseas Chinese communities, it is not strange that it has taken such an action before any other province or region. In fact, as part of the country's ongoing crackdown on corruption, Guangdong's action against luoguan reflects the Chinese leadership's resolve to end the scourge of this social malaise.

Luoguan are widely believed to be a high-risk group when it comes to corruption because the permanent residency of their family members abroad can create a convenient channel for them to transfer their illicit earnings overseas and possibly flee the country before being arrested.

Chinese people cannot accept officials taking advantage of their positions to amass wealth through illegal means and send their family members abroad, irrespective of what the reasons are. Such officials don't have the locus standi or moral right to tell their fellow citizens to love and serve their motherland while making it possible for their own family members to get permanent residency in another country, live a lavish lifestyle and even serve a foreign government.

As a matter of fact, a lot of corruption cases busted in China in the past few years have revealed the luoguan connection. For example, in 2012, Wang Guoqiang, the former Party chief of Fengcheng, a small city in Liaoning province, fled to the United States with his wife, a local customs official, to join his daughter after having made a rumored 200 million yuan ($3.2 million) in illicit funds. Ridiculously enough, four months later, the provincial authorities launched an investigation against Wang for accepting bribes and violating Party regulations on traveling overseas without permission, and fired him from his Party and government posts.

In 2013, investigations against Zhang Shuguang, the former deputy chief engineer of the now defunct Ministry of Railways accused of taking 47.6 billion yuan in bribes, also found that his wife and daughter had migrated to the US, where they owned a large mansion.

Thousands of Chinese officials are said to have fled the country with assets worth hundreds of billions of yuan over the past couple of decades. Such officials' escape from the country, especially the escape of those holding leading posts such as Gao Yan, the former Party chief of Yunnan province, has not only caused enormous economic loss for China but also seriously hurt the Party's image.

Given that luoguan, especially the corrupt ones, have a stronger urge to flee abroad, the higher authorities have to keep a tight leash on them. Besides, the higher authorities should also take necessary measures to remove them from key posts to preempt corruption. Guangdong's crackdown on luoguan is thus a good start in the intensified fight against corruption, which should be emulated by other provinces and regions.

Considering that the public believes that most of the luoguan lack honesty and integrity, the higher authorities should not confine the crackdown on just demoting or firing them. If need be, they should launch thorough investigations to determine whether they have indulged in corruption, and punish them if they have.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. wuyixue@chinadaily.com.cn.

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