Monday, 21 May 2012

Law needed to force declaration of assets

Making officials and family members reveal their wealth would go a long way to fighting corruption and boosting transparency on the mainland

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Guanyu 道 said...

Law needed to force declaration of assets

Making officials and family members reveal their wealth would go a long way to fighting corruption and boosting transparency on the mainland

Wang Xiangwei
21 May 2012

Last week, two unrelated but interesting developments again put the spotlight on the mainland leadership’s uphill battle against rampant corruption - in particular a lack of political will and courage to push for sunshine laws to boost transparency and accountability in government.

On Friday, Lai Changxing, once the mainland’s most wanted fugitive, was jailed for life for running one of the country’s biggest ever smuggling operations - a case which also highlighted the depth and breadth of official graft.

One day earlier, US Ambassador Gary Locke called the Beijing Daily’s bluff by making public his income and personal assets.

Understandably, both developments triggered heated online discussion about widespread corruption on the mainland.

According to a Xinhua report on the trial, Lai’s smuggling operations evaded customs duties worth 14 billion yuan (HK$17.19 billion) and he was also accused of bribing 64 government officials with nearly 40 million yuan in total. Lai’s case implicated several hundred central government and local officials, including a deputy public security minister, as he used money and sex to build a web of official protection for his activities.

The authorities, of course, trumpeted Lai’s conviction as an example of the government’s unswerving determination to fight crime and graft. For most mainlanders, however, the shocking scale of corruption - revealed by Lai’s smuggling case in the 1990s - has shown little sign of being curbed and some would say it is getting worse.

The leadership cannot be faulted for not trying hard to fight corruption. The anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, has released hundreds of detailed measures to govern behaviour and conduct of officials, ranging from the size of office space to the number of dishes they can eat at banquets.

While those measures have proved useful, the leaders have wrung their hands for nearly two decades at employing one of the most effective weapons to fight corruption - making officials and their relatives declare their income and assets under a proposed sunshine law.

Since the early 1990s, there have been rising calls for such a law, which has proved effective in many countries and regions including Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there has been little progress on the mainland.

Officials have cited a long list of excuses including a primitive data gathering and sharing mechanism, and even privacy.

But the snowballing scandal involving disgraced politician Bo Xilai and his family members has added fresh impetus to such calls. Following Bo’s downfall in April, there was intense speculation over how Bo’s family members - including his wife, son, and siblings - used his political influence to amass huge personal fortunes. That has touched a raw nerve with many mainlanders over the rampant corruption involving family members of other top government and party officials.

The mainland’s once-in-a-decade leadership change scheduled for this autumn, which will see Vice-President Xi Jinping take over from President Hu Jintao, should provide good timing.

To signal a fresh start, Xi should take the lead by declaring not only his own income and assets, but also those of immediate family members.