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Corruption and accountability: issues China's next-gen leaders will have to face

world Updated: Nov 05, 2012 23:58 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Last week, a Communist Party official from Hanshou in south-central China did something probably no government official in China has ever done. Zhang Tiancheng, a deputy at the Hanshou country politics and law committee, sat down in the front of a computer and voluntarily disclosed his and his family’s assets on the most popular Chinese twitter-like service, Sina Weibo.

Zhang typed out 10 messages, each of which he introduced with “to answer netizens’ requests, I am now disclosing my income and assets.”

The messages translated from Chinese were posted online on Offbeat China, a website that tracks trends in China.

The crux of Zhang’s disclosure was that his annual family income was 71420 Yuan (approximately Rs 5.93 lakh) and after paying for daughter’s marriage and an apartment, he has no savings.

Zhang’s detailing of his income and assets were both matter-of-fact and poignant and the response was overwhelmingly positive among netizens. There is no central legislation in China making the disclosure of assets mandatory for government or Party officials; a legislation is gathering dust since 1994.

But Zhang’s example, coming days before the Communist Party congress, is being hailed as courageous by a huge number of people online.

Offbeat China quoted netizen chzh1366835 as saying: “He dares to do what the others dare not. Those millions of officials, please follow his suit.” Another agreed: “To disclose personal assets by law is an unstoppable trend.” Another supporter said: “He is a true servant of the people. Wish he can be a role model for the rest.”

Zhang stands out in a hail of corruption scandals that have rocked China in the past few months. The issue of corruption and accountability is widely expected to be discussed during the Party Congress beginning on November 8. China was ranked 75th by Transparency International on corruption index in 2011 but many think the situation is far worse.

There’s plenty to discuss. Starting from the spectacular fall of Bo Xilai, who was accused of taking huge bribes to New York Times’ expose of Wen Jiabao’s family amassing huge wealth to the earlier but similar story ran by Bloomberg on Xi Jinping, who’s expected to take over from President Hu Jintao during the Congress.

Then there are the cases of provincial officials who were exposed on microblogging sites, triggering thousands of angry responses.

In one case, Cai Bin, a senior urban management official in Guangzhou's Panyu district, was stripped of his post after being found to own 22 houses estimated to be worth 40 million Yuan ($6.4 million).

In another case, Yang Dacai, chief of the Work Safety Bureau in Shaanxi Province, made headlines after Web users spotted him in a picture smiling and wearing a luxury watch at the scene of a fatal traffic accident in August. Later, pictures surfaced showing him sporting, 10 expensive watches, pricy glasses and belts.

Officials need to be accountable: this demand is growing among the educated, net-savvy Chinese. According to the website, Peking university professors working on the China Government Transparency Report had sent out disclosure requests to 42 government organs for information on overhead per capital.

“Only 9 responded with numbers. 15 said the request was under review. 18 rejected,” it said.

The new leaders of China will have to find a way to balance the citizens’ increasing appetite for accountability and disgust for corruption with the Party’s interest.

And Zhang’s example is always there a click away; besides detailing his assets, he also shared his personal interests. “TV, books, Weibo, poets, fishing, and of course, pretty women, but I would never do anything improper with them.” Most would believe him.