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Time to stop the rot in the lottery system

By Zhang Zhouxiang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-11-15 15:38

"Systemic corruption has caused irreparable losses to the lottery system. It is almost a disaster."

This statement is from Feng Lizhi, former deputy director of China Welfare Lottery Management Center, or CWL. By "systemic lottery corruption" he means the suspected corruption he and 13 of his colleagues, including two former directors and three former deputy directors, are under probe for.

On Tuesday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party of China’s top anti-corruption watchdog, released videos on its official website the 14 suspects regretting their misdeeds.

Two successive top CWL officials, Bao Xuequan and Wang Suying, are under investigation for suspected embezzlement of funds. And their predecessor, Chen Chuanshu, received disciplinary punishment in July for failing to supervise Bao when the latter served as his deputy.

The amount of money they embezzled has not been made public, but the topic of lottery corruption has attracted so many eyeballs that by Wednesday night it had already become one of the hottest topics on the social online network.

The CWL is in charge of issuing welfare lotteries across the country, and is supposed to put the "profit" it earns from selling the lotteries into a lottery public welfare fund to help improve people’s welfare. That’s why, when people buy CWL lotteries, they not only try their luck, but also contribute something to help improve public welfare. And when they realize their money has been misused, they not only feel a sense of loss but also lose faith in the lottery management system as well as the public welfare system.

The CWL and welfare lottery have been receiving increasing flak on micro blogs, with many netizens saying they won’t buy CWL lotteries any more. Feng is right — the damage their corruption has caused to the lottery system can never be overestimated. Judging from what Feng and his colleagues have said in the videos, they all knew it was a crime to embezzle the lottery funds, yet they still indulged in corruption.

According to a National Audit Office report in 2014, there were problems with 16.9 billion yuan ($2.43 billion), or more than a quarter of the 65.8 billion yuan funds its officials had audited. The report prompted the anti-graft agencies to swing into action, dig out evidence and eventually put all the 14 suspects under investigation.

Since education or re-education programs have failed to prevent some officials from indulging in corruption, there is a need to strengthen supervision of the lottery system so the officials in charge don’t get a chance to embezzle funds. In the welfare lottery case, for example, financial departments at various levels of the government are supposed to supervise the use of the lottery public welfare fund. But, surprisingly, local financial departments are in charge of allocating the fund. In other words, the local financial departments supervise themselves, which is ridiculous.

In the central government, the Ministry of Finance supervises the Ministry of Civil Affairs in allocating the funds, but both are ministerial-level departments and the former hardly has any power to effectively supervise the latter. And lax supervision breeds corruption.

The most practical solution to the problem of lax supervision is to give the public a bigger say in the process. For example, it should be mandatory for the head of the department to submit the annual report to the legislature at the corresponding level and the latter should be given the power to approve or disapprove of the report. Also, the annual report on the lottery public welfare funds should be made public, so anyone with doubts can complain to the anti-corruption agencies.

Moreover, the audit office should more frequently audit the accounts of the lottery department so that problems can be detected and addressed before they can grow and cause irreparable damage to the department. The lottery system cannot afford to suffer another corruption scandal case.

The author is a writer with China Daily. 

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