Viewpoint: Independent body better to fight corruption in China

CHINA - Corruption among officials remains a serious problem, and it is not just officials at the grassroots level in China. As the efforts intensify, some senior officials have been investigated and prosecuted for corruption, and the amount of money involved has been staggering.

The seemingly never-ending stream of corruption scandals is fuelling increasing public anger. In surveys conducted by people.com.cn before the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee this year, corruption was one of the respondents' biggest concerns.

Why is corruption still such a serious problem in China? One of the most important reasons must be the deficiencies in the existing anti-corruption system, which prevent the anti-graft agencies from fulfilling their duties to their full potential.

There are two main loopholes, the agencies' lack of independence and the dispersion of anti-corruption power.

Supervision must be independent of the power it supervises.

Nobody can effectively supervise their boss. However, in the current anti-corruption system, local anti-graft agencies are subject not only to higher supervising agencies, but also to the local government and local Party leaders as well.

This means people specialising in anti-graft work have to follow the orders of, and write reports to, local leaders who are supposed to be under their supervision as well. How can they report the corruption of local leaders if it is to these local leaders they have to make their reports?

Being subject to local government leaders, the members of anti-graft agencies also depend on local leaders for their promotion and welfare, making themselves vulnerable to the intervention of higher power. In cases where local government leaders are involved in corruption, local anti-graft staff often fail in their duties because they are not able to resist such intervention.

Hence it is imperative that anti-graft agencies are given more independence from local government leaders. If anti-graft staff no longer receive orders from those they are supposed to supervise, their performance will definitely improve.

Lack of power is another headache for local anti-graft personnel. China's anti-graft system consists of multiple agencies and departments: the discipline commission of the Party, the prosecutors' office, and the economic police. Besides these, there are also corruption prevention bureaus in the various levels of government, while some special government branches like the auditing office and customs also have their own anti-graft departments.

Each of these agencies has powers to fight corruption, yet for all of them their power is incomplete and their powers do complement one another; worse, their duties and powers contradict each other.

The various agencies should be integrated into one big anti-corruption agency that can conduct investigations and prosecutions independently. The powers and responsibilities of the various existing agencies could be gradually incorporated into the new one.

A good example of an independent agency and its powers is the Independent Commission Against Corruption in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Founded in 1974, the commission is headed by a commissioner who is directly responsible to the Chief Executive of the HKSAR government, thus ensuring its independence from all other powerful departments; it is also granted full power to investigate corruption cases without the help from other branches.

With full power in hand, the ICAC employs a three-pronged approach to fight corruption: law enforcement, prevention and community education. The result is quite satisfying, as Hong Kong is now widely considered one of the cleanest governance places in the world.

Thus reform of the mainland's anti-graft system should prioritise the creation of an independent fully authorised agency free from the interventions of power and the headaches of insufficient power, this would be a big step toward winning the fight against corruption.

The author is deputy director of the Clean Governance Institute, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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