• Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sunshine laws: China's officials find ways to stay in the shadows

Staff Reporter 2013-02-01 11:34 (GMT+8)

Though Chinese officials have been urged to declare their family wealth, very few in the regions selected as part of government's trial program have complied, or have only declared their assets on government intranets or within their office. Guangzhou official Fan Songqing, who says he is willing to disclose his assets publicly, has called for heavier punishments for those who fail to declare.

Shixing county in the southern province of Guangdong has been named as a trial district for 526 local officials to disclose their salaries, bonuses and subsidies, labor income, real estate holdings, cars and investments after the Spring Festival holidays, including the county governor and party chief, according to state newswire Xinhua. However, the information divulged will only be available on the intranet of the county government and not to the general public, according to the Hunan-based Xiaoxiang Morning Post.

Since 2009, trial schemes to report the family assets of officials have been carried out in around 29 cities and counties across the country, many of them beginning in 2011. Yet the amount of information that has actually been made public remains limited. Only Altay district in Xinjiang, the city of Cixi in Zhejiang, Xiangxiang city in Hunan and the Duodao district of Jingmen in Hubei province, have compiled reports of their officials' assets and made the information accessible to the public.

Lichuan county in Jiangxi province disclosed the information only on a poster at its office building while the results of ten other trial areas were only available within their departments or on the intranet. Xiangshan county in Zhejiang province only disclosed its officials' family assets at its party conference.

Even if municipal governments declare the information publicly, the amount of time for which they are made available has also varied between three days to a month, according to the Xiaoxiang Morning Post.

The mayors of three major cities in Guangdong — Shenzhen, Foshan and the provincial capital Guangzhou — have all said that are prepared to disclose their family assets if asked to do so.

Yang Zhifeng, a member of the party discipline commission of Cixi in Zhejiang, one of the previous trial areas to make a full public disclosure, said full declarations of the wealth held by the families of officials would disrupt social stability and create unrest as the huge income gap may prove greater than the public is willing to accept, according to the Xiaoxiang Morning Post.

Another official said during Guangdong's recent people's congress and political consultative conference that he is willing to disclose his asstes to the party but questioned the legal basis of a policy to demand full public disclosure. "Officials are also people who have their own privacy. They are civil servants, not the slaves of the public," said the official, who suggested lots should be drawn to determine which officials should have to disclose their finances.

Fan Songqing, deputy secretary-general of Guangzhou's political consultative conference, said on the other hand that the powers granted to officials were given to them by the people and they should not seek to avoid full disclosure using the pretext of personal privacy. Although the disclosure policy is supported by new laws that demand people use their real names to conduct financial transactions and state their properties and assets, efficient implementation is the key to the policy's success, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post observed.

The official said those who fail to disclose their family wealth presently only meet with criticism or discipline from within the party. He considered punishment for failing to disclose personal assets should have a legal basis, the lack of which highlights the difficulties of forcing officials to be transparent about their affairs.

Regarding a number of counties and cities which joined the trial more recently and only declared the assets of officials who were recently promoted, Fan admitted the policy is complicated. He volunteered to disclose his own family wealth because "the anti-corruption movement on the internet has grown rapidly. Many netizens have exposed the hidden properties of officials, suggesting that the declaration of this information is necessary."

Who`s who »
Hou Jianguo (侯建國)

Hou Jianguo is president of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, Anhui province and was also a member of the 11th NPC Standing Committee. A native of Fuqing in Fujian ...