Note: The following is a translation of an editorial which first appeared in Southern Weekly on September 24. You can read the original here.
If the people can learn to compromise, please learn to govern honestly
By guest editorialist Dai Zhiyong (???)
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the agency responsible for responding to official corruption, announced on September 19 that all officials will be required to report all records pertaining to housing and investments as well as child and spouse employment. Those officials whose families have moved abroad will have increased supervision.
It is encouraging to see that anti-corruption efforts are continuing. But so far there is no push for this new tactic of expanding the number of items that must be reported to make the information public. This is a far cry from the widespread expectation of a property declaration system for government officials. Anti-corruption legislation, which has been dubbed the Sunshine Act, needs to be put forward but it is not hard to guess the strength of resistance to it thus far. Former NPC delegate Wang Quanjie [???] stated that in a sample survey over 97% of officials opposed “declaring officials’ assets.” This is most likely not an exaggeration.
However, there is also evidence of strong support. The survey also showed that 90% of people supported passing a Sunshine Act as soon as possible. The ruling party even more so sees anti-corruption as an “important political task,” as they strive to avoid the dire straights the KMT once found itself in, namely either you fight corruption and destroy the party or don’t fight it and destroy the country.
Simply put, there are two ways to bring obfuscation and hypocrisy into the light. One is to bring an end to certain powers, such as minimizing the number of personnel under a corrupt official and curbing the right to approval and allocation of resources. The powers that must be left to this person must made transparent and accountable. The other option has already won favor among the Chinese public. It is a property declaration system which originally comes from Sweden and is popular in the much of the world. A legitimate source must be provided for all income and assets worth more than 200RMB. If this can’t be done, the result is denunciation, loss of job or even incarceration. Even if there are greater powers which can be abused, it is unlikely they will avoid monetization. The problem is that this idea is useless unless there is a complete commitment to it. Even though it is a good system, we must face the fact that only 3% of official workers support it.
To be fair, corrupt officials are not naturally evil but rather they are essentially trapped in a vicious cycle: If you don’t do favors, you can’t advance and if you’re not corrupt no one will help you. All this happens while you have nearly unrestricted power in your hands. Corruption has therefore become a chronic illness in official circles that has gradually worsened over time.
Increases in punishment over the last few years have also created a problem. Provincial level officials have been unseated one after another and the cost of their deeds is increasingly apparent. Corrupt officials are quickly losing any sense of security.
The brilliance of the Sunshine Act is in the fact that incoming officials would have a safe space in which to develop their resumes. Once the property declaration system is in place no one will be able to be corrupt, and it will not be a necessary part of official life anymore. Isn’t relying on people’s goodness and their achievements the gospel of advancement through individual merit? As the Dharma says, if you cut off the flow of the many, you will see the source was always pure. [????,????]
The question then is why all those officials stuck in a cycle of corruption together do not unanimously support a property declaration. The answer is actually very simple. Once there is more benefit to publicly declaring than keeping assets hidden the new regulations will easily go into effect. The crux is still in how to evaluate each kind of situation so that the laws can be implemented. According to the current debate, there are three ways to implement a Sunshine Act.
The first is an iron-fisted method favored by those who have endured corruption for a long time. From the highest officials at the center to the lowest public servant, everyone must make public a full account of one’s property down to the last cent within one day’s time. Those who have committed crimes will be punished accordingly. Those not accused of anything will receive due praise and those not suspected of any wrongdoing will be promoted.
The second method is fairly ridiculous and only for those ignorant or fearless corrupt officials out there. A supporter for this position states that if any member of the public would like to publicly declare their financial situation that is up to them, but they will pass.
The third is for those officials who have not completely lost their consciences. They would be forced to accept the following compromise. They can declare their financials and whatever they have illicitly squirreled away will go into the State Treasury. This is under the conditions that there will be no punishment and they will be able to continue to work for the Party and country. There are some that say there is no other alternative because passing a Sunshine Act provides no other way out.
As long as you can avoid any major disruptions to the entire system, the iron fisted approach is the best, but in the end the four elements of declaring, publicizing, supervising and accountability all rely on official cooperation. How can government monitors tell who is clean and who is not? Even if they themselves are clean, will they have the courage, insight and skill to complete this formidable mission? The supervisory system and National Corruption Prevention Bureau belong to the administrative order. Will it work having lower level staff members checking on their superiors?
The second method is ridiculous and unrealistic. The danger is that the declaration system will be postponed indefinitely and illicit sources of income will slowly rise like a swelling river. Who can be sure that one day the dykes won’t suddenly burst?
Reform minded people will naturally reject the notion of fallen officials coming back to work. However, wiping out all corrupt officials and even the entire bureaucratic system in one fell swoop without turning the nation upside down is something only God could do. Compromise is necessary but how do we go about this? One example is starting from the weakest segment. This is the reason for doing asset declaration first in a place like the Altai Region of Xinjiang. The power of assets there is limited, fund allocations are specialized and the exchange between money and power is low. Officials there are not mortally afraid of the Sunshine Act. Using the same logic but from a youthful standpoint, we can start at the point of least resistance. Most “new reserve cadres” have already been checked. They have little baggage and completely meet the requirements of being the first to publicly declare their financial information.
Whether there is amnesty for those with illegal assets and income or we just put aside this knotty problem, it is going to be a complex political process no matter what we do. It is a test of the political wisdom of China, both of its officials and the people. If the public has already seen the big picture and does not insist on using an iron fisted method, then are officials ready from this moment to begin to govern honestly?