The Hunt Is on: Curbing Corruption in the CPC
2011-10-19 23:48

By Yu Fei

Abuse of power and corruption seem to be an unavoidable endemic among leading parties and governments in the world. China is no different. However, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has a special force to oversee those who wish to take advantage of their power.

Feared and hated by corrupt officials, the discipline watchdogs of the CPC are a driving force in ridding the Party of graft, corruption and abuse.

Tian Zhirong, a tall, 37-year-old man with a booming voice, takes his inspections seriously. He was recently promoted from being a disciplinary watchdog to the Party chief of Fengzhuang township in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Before working in Fengzhuang, Tian was the secretary of the commission for discipline inspection of Zaoyuan township. Rapid economic development has caused many conflicts of interest in the town over the last ten years.

"When I began my work in Zaoyuan in 2001, there were many farmers coming to petition, complaining about local officials who were breaking rules. I received petitioners from as many as nine villagers in one day," says Tian.

The discipline inspection commissions of the CPC are responsible for intra-Party supervision. One of the major tasks of the discipline watchdogs is to help build a clean Party and fight against corruption.

In 2002, Tian went to the village of Biangou to speak with the village committee about allegations of corruption in the village. Someone threw stones into his room at night to thwart his investigation. Undaunted, Tian replaced his windows and continued his investigation. Two leaders of the village were found to have embezzled more than 600,000 yuan (about 92,736 U.S. dollars).

Another investigation in 2003 resulted in some suspicious-looking people lurking around Tian's home. He asked his wife and child to stay away from home after one of the mysterious stalkers came inside and knocked over a pan while his wife was cooking.

"My wife worried a lot and didn't support me in the beginning. She got used to it gradually. I'm not afraid, because I know I'm right," Tian says.

An oil field manager recently came to Tian to ask him to help with expanding the manager's business. Tian told him to abide by the town's regulations. The manager secretly left 2,000 yuan in Tian's office as a bribe, but Tian returned the money.

"I don't remember how many things like this have happened before. They think it's a shortcut to achieve their goal. Yes, 2,000 yuan is not a small sum for me. I only make 3,000 yuan a month. But if I can't resist the temptation, how can I ask others to obey? The biggest challenge for a discipline supervisor is conquering himself," says Tian.

When officials from higher authorities come to the town, it's a common practice for local officials to treat them to fancy banquets and expensive liquor. Tian hates this form of dining and wining, which is often funded with public money. "This practice has destroyed the working style of the Party, as well as the health of officials," Tian says.

A frugal kitchen was set up in the government of Fengzhuang in 2010 to provide meals for various officials on business in the town. The cost of each official's meal is no more than 20 yuan, and alcohol is banned from the kitchen's canteen.

"The kitchen has been welcomed by the masses. Every year, we save about 900,000 yuan in banquet costs," Tian says.

He says that discipline inspection work also requires humanity. When the Party chief of the village of Lucaogou was found to have embezzled 10,000 yuan in public funds, he was dismissed and given a warning. After dealing with the case, Tian visited the official's home, finding that his wife was disabled and that his family was quite poor. Tian helped them work through their difficulties and had an emotional discussion with the official, during which he admitted his mistakes.

"We don't just punish these Party members. We also try to save them," Tian says.

Graft has become one of the Chinese people’s top concerns. “The effort to tackle corruption is critical to consolidating the political basis for the Communist Party of China,” says Shi Jie, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the political advisory body.

Yan Shengli, secretary of the commission for discipline inspection of Zhidan County of Shaanxi Province, does his best to meet the needs of local petitioners when he isn't busy with meetings.

"No matter how bad of an attitude they have when they come into my office, I treat them warmly. I give them a glass of water and ask them to voice their complaints," Yan says.

The discipline inspection commission of Zhidan County investigates more than 60 cases every year. Yan says he has offended many people because of his work. The county's officials are quite familiar with each other, which can make supervision more difficult.

However, at the end of the day, Yan is just a regular citizen. In his spare time, he likes to play table tennis, watch sports and check out American movies. He reads newspaper on his mobile phone every day. He says that although he considers his work "sacred," he is still just an ordinary person with common emotions and desires.

"Being a discipline supervisor for five years, I often worry about failures in my work. Corrupt officials who have been punished for their actions have shown us that we can't make the same mistakes as them," Yan says.

He says there is no necessary connection between corruption and a one-party ruling system. Corruption is a universal phenomenon all over the world, and the CPC has always taken a zero tolerance attitude toward corruption.

"However, as long as people experience lust and desire for material things, corruption will always exist. No doctor can prevent everybody from getting ill, no matter how advanced his methods are. As long as we minimize the occurrence of corruption, our work can be called successful," Yan says.

China investigated 2,723 corrupt officials at or above the county level in 2010, including 188 at the prefecture level and six at the ministerial level, according to Procurator-General Cao Jianming.

On July 19, two former deputy mayors of east cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou, Xu Maiyong and Jiang Renjie, were executed for bribery.

Xu abused powers of his office to interfere with project contracts and to help companies and people obtain land, promotions and tax breaks while acting as chief of the Xihu District government, Party secretary of the district and deputy mayor of Hangzhou.

Xu sought and took bribes of 145 million yuan, and embezzled 53.59 million yuan from a state-owned property development firm. In addition, he arranged illegal return of 71.7 million yuan in land purchase payments to a property development firm in which he had a stake.

Jiang Renjie took advantage of his position as deputy mayor of Suzhou to obtain benefits from real estate development projects for five companies. In return, Jiang took bribes, including more than 108 million yuan in cash from property developers.

The latest ministerial-level official implicated in a corruption scandal is Liu Zhijun, who was removed from his post as minister of railways in late February for “severe violations of discipline”.

“From Liu”s case we can see that the Party and government’s firm determination to fight corruption, and the Party is carrying out more strict supervision on officials, especially the heads of all government departments,” says Wu Yuliang, deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC.

Hu Jintao, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, says in a keynote speech at a grand gathering marking the 90th founding anniversary of the CPC that the Party will intensify its efforts to combat corruption, which is crucial in gaining popular support for the Party and ensuring its very survival.

“If not effectively curbed, corruption will cost the Party the trust and support of the people,” Hu says.

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