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Officials clear the air on graft fight

By Zhang Yan | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2015-03-15 14:26

While many experts support the campaign, others complain the process hasn't gone far enough

The fight against corruption has become a top priority for the central leadership, because it is key to China's future and the legitimacy of the government, according to leading experts.

At the ongoing two sessions, the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, many delegates have spoken warmly of the achievements of the anti-corruption drive and the determination to build a clean government, but others admitted that they harbor reservations about the duration and efficacy of the campaign.

 Officials clear the air on graft fight

A Chinese paper-cut by an elementary school student from Jiangsu province shows the character lian, which means "free from corruption". Si Wei / China Daily

"After an anti-graft campaign lasting two years, I expect the Party to strengthen its efforts and conduct a persistent campaign to crack down on corruption," said Du Mei, a CPPCC member and deputy director of the Television Artists Association in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Du urged the government to strike a balance between fighting corruption and encouraging honest officials to perform their duties without fear of falling afoul of investigative teams.

"Given the intensity of the anti-graft campaign, some officials in my hometown are wary of discharging their responsibilities because they are afraid they may become targets too," she said.

Xiong Daijun, an NPC deputy and vice-president of the North University of China in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, was also skeptical: "Although some effective measures have been taken, I still doubt the government will establish a comprehensive mechanism -information gathering, supervision and prevention - that will eradicate the problem of corruption."

Niu Dun, a CPPCC member and vice-minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, said, "The priority is to speed up the legislative process and run the country in accordance with the laws to eliminate corruption at the roots."

After taking office at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, President Xi Jinping initiated a wide-ranging drive against graft that targeted both high-ranking "tigers" and lowly "flies".

Statistics from the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection show that by January, as many as 63 officials at the ministerial or provincial level and higher were being investigated over allegations of "serious violations of discipline", a common euphemism for corruption.

Those under investigation include four powerful "tigers": Zhou Yongkang, the country's former chief of security; Xu Caihou, a PLA general and former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission; Su Rong, former vice-chairman of the CPPCC's National Committee; and Ling Jihua, former minister of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee.

Some foreign media have also questioned the campaign, saying it has resulted in Party officials becoming reluctant to perform their duties and has led to a downturn in economic development. Some observers have said the campaign is nothing more than a purge of Xi's political rivals.

Chen Yong, an NPC deputy from Hong Kong who works in the financial sector, said: "Those (media) organizations have ulterior motives, and have deliberately distorted the truth. If China doesn't boost efforts to combat corruption, they will ask the government why it ignored serious graft and didn't take effective measures to cope with it." He added that the claims are politically driven, because the commentators are interfering in China's internal affairs and blame all failings on the country's political system.

Zhao Hongzhu, deputy head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country's main corruption watchdog, said: " It's wrong for some people, overseas commentators in particular, to interpret China's anti-corruption campaign as an internal power struggle."

Insiders said the commission will redouble its efforts this year and will widen the scope of its investigations to include all government offices and major state-owned enterprises.

Li Xiaohong, a senior CCDI official, said new guidelines would be issued by the end of June to standardize discipline inspection and better connect with the regulations to punish officials who break Party rules.

In addition, the scope of inspections will be expanded and accelerated to include as many as 2,100 cities and counties, and more than 4,700 government offices and departments, Li said.

According to the CCDI, local teams have conducted several rounds of inspections in more than 1,200 cities and counties since 2013. Meanwhile, 700 local governments and institutions were probed between 2013 and last year.

Li said the teams face heavy workloads, but the CCDI is ready to "improve its investigative capabilities and speed up its actions".

The commission unveiled the plans in response to Xi's recent call for comprehensive rule of law and strict adherence to Party regulations.

Xi made the remarks at a recent CCDI meeting in Beijing, saying that last year's anti-graft campaign had been effective and the fight is "a matter of life and death" for the Party and the country. "All Party members should make compliance with the law and Party discipline their top priorities, so they will behave appropriately and build a clean government," he said.

At the end of the Chinese New Year holiday, the anti-corruption watchdog launched a round of inspections of state-owned enterprises. So far, CCDI inspection teams have visited 26 large SOEs, including State Grid Corp, China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, China Huaneng Group and China National Petroleum Corp.

A senior CCDI official, who declined to be identified, said, "We will accept complaints about misconduct involving SOE's directors in their working and personal capacities via phone calls, e-mail and personal meetings."

At a meeting in January, the commission decided to redouble its inspections of SOEs, especially of directors in key positions.

Hao Mingjin, vice-minister of supervision at the CCDI, said: "The operations of some SOEs are closely related to national economic security. Corruption can result in huge losses and seriously compromise economic security. Some SOE directors have colluded with foreign forces to trade national assets in return for huge sums of money. We will resolutely fight abuses such as these."

In recent years, SOEs have been at the center of a number of graft cases, mainly related to management issues, personal arrangements or audits that resulted in huge losses and posed potential threats to the country's economic security.

Dong Dasheng, a CPPCC member and former national deputy auditor-in-chief, said the overseas assets of SOEs under the direct supervision of the central government are valued at about 4 trillion yuan ($637 billion; 267 billion euros), but despite the huge amounts involved, a formal audit has never been undertaken.

Moreover, some SOEs' directors are alleged to have bought and sold positions, embezzled public funds, or abused their power by arranging for their spouses and children to live overseas and run businesses, according to the CCDI.

Some officials bent the rules when awarding contracts, while others appointed family members to posts for which they were unqualified, or formed intra-party factions, according to the commission.

Since the Party Congress in 2012, CCDI teams have probed 14 major SOEs - in all, 118 central SOEs have been investigated - and more than 70 executives have been dismissed.

"It's essential that the overseas assets of central SOE's are audited to ensure that they are transparent, well-managed and not vulnerable to corrupt elements," said Dong, who added that a regular auditing mechanism for SOEs is urgently needed.

Xi told the January meeting of the CCDI that the complexity and intractability of corruption means China still faces tough challenges, and warned that the battle is far from over. Anti-corruption mechanisms have been put in place but they aren't perfect, so corruption still exists and temptations remain, he said.

According to Zhao Hongzhu, deputy head of the CCDI, some officials still abuse their power and accept huge bribes because they can quickly line their pockets with millions, or even hundreds of millions, of yuan.

Others use their powers to establish close political or economic interests with other officials and company directors. Many secretly form factions, he said. The central leadership is fully aware that, historically, corruption was at the heart of several dynastic collapses and the failures of established political parties.

The CCDI said it would attach great importance to investigating officials who continue to act corruptly or display low moral standards even in the face of the anti-graft campaign.

Other targets will include officials involved with political and economic cliques, and those with poor public reputations. The probity of officials likely to win promotion to key positions will also be investigated.

Sun Ruisheng contributed to this story.

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