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Editorial: Inspections Vital to Spur Systemic Changes in Corruption Fight

By Hu Shuli

Although “catching tigers” has become a norm under China’s sweeping anti-corruption drive, a recent documentary co-produced by the Communist Party’s graft buster and China Central Television still managed to trigger a heated public discussion.

The public was both shocked and surprised by the vivid details revealed in the four-episode series titled “The Sharp Sword of Inspection Tours,” about senior government officials caught in the anti-graft net cast by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). This included Huang Xingguo, the former Tianjin mayor who was an avid believer in feng shui and was good at covering up his corrupt deals; Wang Bao’an, the former head of the National Bureau of Statistics, who helped his brothers secure top government positions; and Lu Enguang, who faked his age, diploma and work-experience records and bribed his way into posts at key ministries, including the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

The popularity of this documentary isn’t just fueled by people’s curiosity about the massive amounts taken in bribes or the bizarre tactics used to amass ill-gotten gains. It’s the public’s loathing of corruption and people’s desire for a harsher crackdown that has drawn them to the TV screens.

The inspection teams dispatched by the party’s anti-corruption watchdog are a major means of fulfilling the leadership’s vow to tighten party discipline and have “zero tolerance” toward corruption. The inspections, which cover local governments as well as state-owned enterprises, have proved effective. More than 60% of graft cases were uncovered from clues gathered during these inspections.

However, a sober assessment shows that the ground reality is quite complicated. Corruption may raise its ugly head again if the anti-graft campaign slows down. It takes comprehensive planning and further action to build on the current achievements and make institutional improvements to prevent corruption.

The inspections have put high pressure on the corrupt and helped the campaign sustain its momentum. The anti-graft efforts have once again been suspected of being temporary measures. But they have become institutionalized in the party charter and will not come to a stop.

Inspection reports are important feedback to problems lurking in certain party groups. Whether the party groups’ leaders can seriously make changes according to these reports will determine the impact of the anti-graft efforts.

Some local government leaders have only been following the rules superficially, resisting inspection-team recommendations on corrective actions. In the CCDI documentary, Wang Min, former party chief of Liaoning province, said he was aware of a local People’s Congress election scandal, yet didn’t want to “offend” anyone as he was on the verge of retirement. Huang, the former Tianjin mayor, said he voted for Wu Changshun to become a deputy chief of a local political advisory body while knowing the former Tianjin police head was seriously corrupt.

Some factions have blamed the slowdown in the Chinese economy and some officials’ poor performance or laziness on the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. The inspection work has proved that such a conclusion is groundless.

Twisted ties between government officials and businessmen will only harm economic and financial order. If people who hold political power can interfere with the market, how can the market ensure fair competition? Wu, for instance, took advantage of his position as Tianjin’s police chief, benefiting from projects related to public security and traffic for a long time. He monopolized some sectors, pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and even intimidated competitors using police power. How could local businesses prosper under such an atmosphere of terror?

The country’s drive to boost economic growth through restructuring and new technology demands an even-cleaner business environment, so that private businesses will not become the “moneybags” of corrupt officials.

The inspection system also needs to improve to solve the tricky issue of “who’s going to supervise the supervisors.” Some officials within the CCDI were found to have leaked information to corrupt officials targeted by the watchdog. The authorities have also been paying close attention to the prevention of corruption within anti-graft teams. Efforts to supervise disciplinary officials will continue so that power will be “caged within a sound system” to avoid any excesses.

A key accomplishment of the anti-graft campaign in recent years is ensuring transparency and emphasizing supervision by media and the public. CCDI’s official website publishes information soon after officials are put under investigation. The website also releases timely findings from inspection tours.

These measures help build public trust and shows that these efforts are serious, and people are encouraged to report more on corruption around them.

In the documentary, several inspectors praised the power of community supervision, as the public’s tips often help them make breakthroughs when they were struggling to move ahead in their investigations.

The importance of media supervision should not be ignored either. Su Shulin, a former governor of Fujian province, admitted in the documentary that he had tried to use his power to have web posts accusing him of corruption removed. It only showed the power of the media. Investigative reports from established media will even be more powerful in exposing the wrongdoings of corrupt officials.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party will take place in Beijing next month. The public has been closely watching the authority’s next move after its fruitful anti-graft drive in the past five years. We hope the high pressure on the corrupt will continue, and the inspection work can further progress to improve systems and institutions needed to fight corruption.

Hu Shuli is the editor-in-chief of Caixin Media.

 

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