Guangdong Province, as is often the case, has been chosen to pilot some of the country’s newest legislation. According to China Business Journal (via The Atlantic), Hengqin County in Zhuhai, Nansha County in Guangzhou and Shixing County in Shaoguan will be “experimental zones” for a system to make information about officials’ assets publicly available in 2013.
This was announced after a period of just over a month in which scandals involving officials in the province came thick and fast.
While corruption seems to be everywhere these days, the Fabius Maximus blog, which focuses on economics and geopolitics, argues that corruption in China is not at dangerous levels when you consider how corrupt America was when it was at a similar stage of development.
But anger at official corruption is widespread and raw. Both Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping have emphasized the need to tackle corruption in order to maintain stability.
As The Atlantic points out, making genuine long-term progress through this experiment, which is part of Guangdong Province’s five year plan, would be a hell of an achievement:
The idea of an official assets disclosure system was first put forward in 1989, followed by ceaseless calls from the public, as well as proposals submitted by representatives of the National People’s Congress, demanding the establishment of such a system. But objections from various interest groups have held the plan up in the air.
Allegations of official misconduct are not slowing down. One of the more high profile cases came in Shenzhen at the beginning of this week.
In recent days, an online post accusing a Shenzhen subdistrict government official of abusing power and arranging jobs for numerous relatives was picked up by several newspapers, according to Shenzhen Daily.
In the post, a director surnamed Chen, now with the Cuizhu Subdistrict Office in Luohu, has been accused of arranging jobs in the office for 50 relatives and buying an RMB 500,000 (US$79,986) car with public funds. He also stands accused of buying an RMB 400,000 car for his own use when he was appointed head of Cuizhu Subdistrict, which would have been unaffordable on the salary he was earning.
But the exposure and punishment of the occasional official is unlikely to satisfy a public hungry for broader reforms. Demanding that officials declare assets does not stop corruption, which is described by author Murong Xuecun as “abuse of power.”
Moreover, the three counties selected are of little importance on a national level. Such reforms have been experimented on before in villages and counties, only to die out when the person who introduced them moves on.
Officials who illegally amass money can easily move it overseas. And nepotism in government departments and state-owned enterprises is so prevalent that whenever any seemingly undeserving person is promoted, many people immediately assume it be a case of nepotism.
A public that is seeing higher living costs while salaries remain stagnant is growing tired of being left in the dust by a ruling class that is not introducing the meaningful reforms to help them.
This was best illustrated by the case of the government official, Yuan Songfang, who recently jumped to his death from his residence building in Zhongshan after months of protests in Haizhou Village, which he presides over.
This case is a tragic example of the conflict between maintaining stability and tackling special interests.