A new anti-corruption commission has been established with even wider powers, and it may just be working, writes Tom Pattinson
Since coming to power Xi Jinping has made it his mission to clamp down on official corruption. Xi pledged to crack down on both “tigers and flies” – everyone from senior officials to civil servants – and he has followed through on his promise. Since the end of 2012, over a million party officials have been disciplined. Some of those “tigers” included members at the most senior levels of government – Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang and Politburo member Bo Xilai were two of the estimated 120 high-ranking officials to fall victim of the anti-corruption purges.
And the crackdown hasn’t just been limited to public officials. Significant numbers of executives from state-run companies as well as other private sector workers and business owners have also been accused of, or charged with, corruption and financial irregularities. In 2014, Xi further extended the anti-graft drive, by launching ‘Operation Foxhunt’, a global campaign to work with foreign governments to repatriate corrupt officials who had fled China to live abroad.
Last month saw the establishment of a new body to monitor potential corruption by “all public servants exercising public power”. The National Supervision Commission (NSC) will take over from the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which was previously in charge of anti-corruption. Now the NSC will sit above them and look for bribery, embezzlement or other corruption amongst any public workers rather than just more senior public officials. Teachers, doctors and other public sector workers will all now be open to prosecution, which could mean a prison sentence or even a death sentence in extreme cases.
“The number of people who believed corruption in Chinese corporations was widespread dropped eight points”
It was also reported by the Financial Times last month that the anti-corruption drive has spread to Hong Kong after staff at subsidiaries of a Mainland Chinese company in Hong Kong were required to handover “personal travel documents to the company or face unspecified punishments.” It is in breach of Hong Kong law for a company to force staff to hand over travel documents but this move has caused further concerns that the legal barriers between Hong Kong and Beijing are being eroded.
The new agency will supervise three times as many people as the older watchdogs and international organisations, including Amnesty International, have said that the NSC is a threat to the human rights of Chinese people. This in part is due to its scope but also because it has higher powers than the Supreme Court.
In an economy where public servants are often paid relatively low base salaries, there has been a long tradition of receiving ‘gifts’ in exchange for a favour – jumping the queue in a hospital or having extra tuition to improve grades in school. For many public sector workers, these ‘gifts’ will be removed but their salaries will not increase.
However, there is evidence that the anti-corruption drive may well be working. According to the “15th Global Fraud Survey” published by accounting firm EY last month, the number of respondents who believed corruption in Chinese corporations was widespread, dropped eight points to 16 per cent this year compared with the figure in 2014.
This is not evidence of an actual reduction of corruption but it does show that the perception of corruption within Chinese companies is reducing. For a long time, companies from China have struggled with an association of corruption. This news will certainly help go towards improving their image.