Bribe-reporting websites get mixed reviews
Updated: 2011-06-19 19:00
BEIJING - "I paid a bribe of 500 yuan ($77) to local traffic police getting them to excuse me a 2,000-yuan fine," said a post on the Chinese bribe-reporting website woxinghuiliao.com.
The idea of setting up the website was inspired by the Indian anti-corruption website ipaidabribe.com, said a source who only identified himself by his surname Chen.
Chen runs woxinghuiliao.com in his spare time, as he currently works for a foreign company during the day. He is supported by several volunteers, who came to him after discovering his website.
Chen's website went online on June 11. It encourages netizens to report their own experiences with corruption and bribery.
He said that in addition to rooting out corruption, his original intention was to create an outlet for ordinary citizens to express their frustration regarding bribery and other corrupt practices.
The website is just one of several bribe-reporting websites that have popped up in China recently. At least two websites woxinghuile.info and cobuu.com and seven online forums with similar themes were launched.
Online posts regarding the corrupt practices of some government officials have helped China's anti-graft authorities to investigate and solve corruption cases in years past.
In October 2009, Zhou Jiugeng, a former local real estate management official in east China's Jiangsu Province, was sentenced to 11 years in jail for taking more than one million yuan in bribes.
Zhou was targeted after pictures of him wearing a 100,000-yuan Vacheron Constantin watch, smoking expensive cigarettes and driving a Cadillac were circulated online.
Netizens believed that Zhou's income could not possibly allow him to afford such a luxurious lifestyle, indicating that he was likely to be taking bribes.
In the same year, "Internet anti-corruption" was included as an entry in a dictionary of the publishing house of the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
In December of last year, Han Feng, a tobacco official in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for accepting bribes. Diary posts allegedly written by Han, which described acts of bribery and adultery, were posted online earlier that year.
Tian Xiangbo, a researcher at Hunan University's Research Center for Clean Governance, said that individual bribe-reporting websites should be seen as a good way for the public to supervise government officials and organizations.
Official channels for reporting acts of corruption to the authorities do exist. However, some of the reports sent through these channels do not receive a satisfactory response, causing the public to become less proactive in revealing instances of corruption, Tian said.
Online whistleblowers can receive instant feedback, which is the main reason why people are so keen to report corruption online, he said.
Anonymity and the ability to crowd-source can also make online reporting a more detailed and reliable source of information, Tian said.
The possibility of being exposed on the Internet may also serve as an effective deterrent for corrupt government officials, Tian said.
However, Luo Meng, deputy director of the anti-corruption department of the People's Procuratorate in Beijing's Haidian district, disagreed.
"We've noticed these websites, but we find that most of the information posted on these sites has very little value for our investigations," Luo said.
"If we conduct an investigation, we need the most detailed and specific information possible. However, most of the information on these websites is too ambiguous to provide enough help," Luo said.
Chen, who manages woxinghuiliao.com, admitted that his intention of rooting out corruption has not been realized in quite the way he imagined.
"I haven't come across any cases that have been especially impressive. Most of the posts are just used to vent personal anger," he said.
Even the website's registered members are beginning to question the site's efficacy.
Chen said that because it is a crime to offer a bribe, just as it is to accept one, most users do not give any specific clues in their reports. Most of the members take a "wait and see" attitude toward their posts, he said.
The bribe-reporting websites have also triggered concerns over possible violations of privacy rights.
Although the sites are supposed to be operated in accordance with the law, libel and defamation may occur if the sites are not reasonably administered and managed, Luo said.
Anti-corruption expert Tian agreed that there may be some inaccuracies in online reporting, but argued that libel can only happen in cases where there is "clear, malicious intent."
Chen said privacy violations are a major concern for him and the website's other administrators.
"To handle this concern, people are required to base their reporting on pictures and other factual evidence," Chen said.
Luo said that his procuratorate has set up a special office to search online corruption reports for clues.
They are also receiving tips via phone calls, letters and their own corruption-reporting website.
Disciplinary and anti-graft authorities in China's provincial regions have all set up official corruption-reporting websites by the end of last year.
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