How the Tiger Roared, and how the Fly Roared Back: “Officials are no Slaves of the Common People”

Astronomically expensive cigarettes and alcoholic drinks, luxurious conferences… all kinds of waste of public funding disrupt the party’s working style, undermine the political atmosphere, and erode the ways of the people, Enorth (Tianjin) quotes a People’s Daily editorial today. To promote a better spirit, more sobriety and more virtue wouldn’t be enough, the editorial says. “Some people” could still stick to their bad ways under the excuse of “work requirements” (工作需要). Only improved measures and effective supervision could rein in on whatever kinds of wasteful mindsets and on “tip of the tongue corruption”(舌尖上的腐败)*). Measures which were stronger in terms of punctuality, pertinence and operability were apparently needed to punish all kinds of thriftless behavior, muses the editorial. Open information wasn’t enough, as it lacked specification, and as punishment didn’t deter the undesirable behavior. Supervision was the heart of the matter. Discipline inspection and audits were required to dispel excessive consumption.

All departments needed to take the initiative to create open information, to establish platforms of public [or the masses’] scrutiny to achieve these goals, writes the People’s Daily.

That calls for some footnotes from the grassroots, and in a timely demonstration of inner-party democracy, an official from Guangzhou adds some practical advice:

“Officials have a right to privacy, too, just as patients have a right to privacy when they get medical treatment. This needs to be protected.” The preparatory meeting for the 11th Guangdong National People’s Congress is carried out today. Guangzhou delegation member Ye Pengzhi believes that combatting corruption and encouraging honesty creates a situation of high pressure within society, under which the corruption-minded won’t dare to be corrupt. As for a system of making officials’ property transparent, he suggests to conduct random checks on public officials’ properties, for example by means of lot numbers.

“官员也有自己的隐私权,就像医生治病,病人的病例是隐私,需要保护。”今天,广东省人大十一届一次会议举行了预备会议。广州团的叶鹏智代表认为,反腐倡廉应该形成社会高压态势,让有腐败想法的人不敢贪。关于官员财产公开制度,他建议采取随机抽检的方式公开官员财产,比如可以采取定期“摇号”的办法。

Ye Pengzhi believes that the discipline inspection departments have all kinds of means to supervise officials, but to make officials’ properties public wasn’t necessarily the best method. “I advocate that assets should be declared to the organization, but not necessarily be made known to the public. The more you do that, the more the public atmosphere will be unconducive to fairness and impartiality. It will prompt people under the banner of “public opinion” to engage in populism.”

叶鹏智认为,纪检部门本身已经有各种手段监督官员,向公众公开官员财产不一定是最佳方式。“我提倡可以向组织申报财产,但不一定对公众公开,越是这样,社会风气越不利于公平公正,要警惕一些人打着‘民意’的旗号搞民粹主义。”

Ye Pengzhi persistently asks: “Is there a legal basis for making officials’ properties public? Did the National People’s Congress promulgate a law for the publication of assets? Officials are people, too, they have a right to privacy, too. Officials are the servants, not the slaves of the common people.”

叶鹏智进一步追问:“要官员公开财产有法律依据吗?全国人大有公布财产公开的法律吗?官员也是人,也有隐私;官员是公仆,不是老百姓的奴隶。”

Lavish parties conferences and meetings at the taxpayers’ expense should not be confused with actual property or assets owned by officials. In that regard, People’s Daily and Ye aren’t addressing exactly the same issue. But in public perception, the difference between acquiring property and inflating operational costs is mainly ignored, as they both blend into corruption.

It’s the season for all kinds of anti-corruption talks. CCP secretary general Xi Jinping spoke at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection a few days ago, and announced that no exception will be made when it comes to party disciplines and law. And no difference was to be made between tigers (老虎) and flies (苍蝇). Foreign media believed that Xi’s speech had once again boosted anti-corruption work (外界认为,习近平这番讲话无疑为反贪工作再次注入强心针), Xinhua wrote in a vague review of the international press. But then, Ye Pengzhi is no part of the foreign press, and too much of a boost could lead to public abuse.

The main difference between Ye and People’s Daily’s editorial seems to lie in the issue of public supervision. At least as far as the People’s Daily editorial – or its rendition by Enorth – goes, the concept of platforms for supervision by the public isn’t too specific, but it is mentioned, and it’s usefulness is acknowledged. Human-flesh searches by netizens are hardly desirable when it comes to the goal of a harmonious (or even just civil) society. That said, no conventional measures have done much to get corruption under control during the past decades – not even close.

Large swathes of the Chinese public can be excessive in their demand for punishment and prosecution of corrupt officials. A scenario where revenge – not only for official corruption, but for power abuses of all kinds – would take control doesn’t look terribly attractive – Ye may have a point there. But if the party doesn’t get its act together, it will be the public’s turn anyway – sooner or later.

A totalitarian system can sweep home-made mortifications under the carpet for a long time, but  it also tends to create the conditions for its own eventual downfall – unless the CCP finds a way to have its cake and eat it, too.

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Note

*) Apparently a quote from an ancient Indian political theorist, Chanakya: Just as it’s impossible not to taste honey or poison when it’s on the tip of the tongue, so it’s impossible for a government servant not to eat up at least a bit of the king’s revenue.

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Related

» 外媒关注习近平讲话, Xinhua, January 24, 2013
» Public-Vehicle Petitions, Dec 27, 2012

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