Print options

March 04, 2013

China Begins Efforts to Lift Veil on Officials’ Assets

by William Ide

As China’s Communist Party leaders step up their efforts to fight corruption, a rapidly developing district in the southern mega-city Guangzhou is one of the areas that has been chosen to lead the way.
 
Later this month, officials Nansha New District will be required to disclose a wide range of financial details such as their salary, how many cars and houses they own and where and when they travel overseas.
 
The pilot program is not the first, but its scope is broad and will target high-ranking officials, says Ni Xing a professor at Sun Yat-sen University’s School of Governance.
 
“Assets include things such as your salary, savings and investments, but aside from this there are some other important things to disclose,” he said. “Nansha’s policy will include things such as marital status, where you travel, what your wife and children do for a living and what stocks they own and trade.”

Corruption Hurts Competition
 
Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdon Province, has long been one of China’s biggest economic zones and manufacturing centers, but in recent years it has been facing increased competition from other cities such as Suzhou and Tianjin.
 
Ni Xing says asset disclosure is not only about cracking down on corruption and preventing graft.
 
“I believe that one of the reasons why this is taking place during the leadership reshuffle is because clean governance is a key way of raising an area’s economic competition,” Ni said.  
 
Of the three areas named in Guangdong’s pilot program for assets disclosure, two are special economic zones: Nansha New District and Zhuhai’s Hengqin.
 
Nansha covers some 800-some-square kilometers and was named a special economic zone last year just around the time that China was gearing for the once in a decade reshuffle.

Transparency Popular
 
Chinese officials say their fight against corruption is a life or death struggle and the push to have officials disclose their assets is being welcomed by many.
 
In conversations on the street in Guangzhou, support for the policy was evident.
 
"The power that officials have is frightening, they need to disclose their assets," said one man, Wang, who only wished to give his surname.
 
A young woman surnamed Wang who works in the clothing industry said she supports the policy because it would give the public more transparency.
 
He Di, a high school student in Guangzhou said that now was the time for China to take action to fight corruption.  "I think China is ready for this kind of a policy and should devote itself to this effort," He Di said.
 
A recent public opinion poll carried out by the Canton Public Opinion Research Center, reported that a majority respondents were unhappy about corruption and the accumulation of wealth by officials, moral corruption and the use of public funds for exorbitant personal expenses. The poll said access to prestigious schools and better medical treatment were areas where the problem was most visible.

Take it to the Top
 
Although the Nansha pilot program is widely supported, for some it does not reach high enough.
 
Sun Hanhui is part of a grassroots movement in China that wants the top 205 central government officials to make their assets public.
 
On Monday, after weeks of traveling around the country, Sun and several others sent a petition to the man who will soon be China’s next president, Xi Jinping.
 
The letter included the signatures of 7,033 people from all walks of life - farmers, workers, lawyers, and civil servants - and called on the government’s top officials to disclose their own assets and those of their family members as well.
 
The group is urging officials to make the disclosure during the annual National People’s Congress, which begins Tuesday.
 
“Assets disclosure is a systematic approach that seeks to stem the problem of corruption,” Sun said. “It’s an international model that started more than 200 years ago in Sweden.  It has been used in England and the United States, but for the model to be meaningful it needs to start from the top.”

How far China’s leaders are prepared to take the pilot program remains unclear. Guangzhou’s City Mayor has come forward and said that he is willing to disclose his assets, as have other officials in the south.
 
However, some officials argue that to require them to reveal their salary, assets and investments would be an invasion of their privacy.