Assets declarations key to graft fight

Updated: 2012-09-26 19:19


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BEIJING - Chinese Officials' property declarations are under the spotlight once again as details of the personal assets of 14 local officials to be promoted in Pan'an county of east China's Zhejiang Province were recently made public.

Anyone who visits the county government's website may find out how many residences the officials have, what cars they drive and how much they earn.

The officials make 50,000-80,000 yuan (7,886 to 12,618 U.S. dollars) annually. Of the 14, 11 own cars, ranging from Hyundai to Mazda brands. Two of them do not own residences.

The move was hailed by many people, but it has also served as a reminder of similar attempts taken by other local governments -- some more successful than others.

Requirements for officials to declare property are not new in China. Dozens of local governments from Zhejiang Province to China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region have run such initiatives, most of which have ceased and vanished from public attention.

The government of Liuyang City in central China's Hunan Province used a government website to publish property declarations of 75 officials in September 2009, but netizens discovered that the notice was removed from the website three days later. No further property declaration notices have been released since.

The public has pinned much hope on these declarations to contain corruption. However, the officials concerned are in many cases unwilling to make their earnings known to the public.

One senior official, when asked for his views on the matter, asked why members of the public should not be obliged to divulge their own assets if the same is being required of officials. His words aroused much anger from citizens.

Nevertheless, the Chinese government has treated corruption as its major enemy.

In a keynote speech in July, President Hu Jintao, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, warned that corruption is one of the growing dangers confronting the CPC, and that it has become more urgent for the Party to police itself and instill discipline in its members.

The property declaration information should be accessible to the public in the long term otherwise officials' acceptance of supervision from the public is just empty talk, observers have noted.

Local governments need to release officials' property information at least once a year, so the public can be alerted to any changes in their earnings.

Furthermore, reports of officials' properties must be strictly scrutinized, to prevent dishonesty by some officials.

Under the current system, officials need to report their property status to higher authorities. Making this also known to the public is conducive to better supervision by the people.

Those who commit fraud or concealment on property declarations should also be punished, since there are venal officials who have survived successive annual declarations only to be found to be corrupt later.

Currently, only newly appointed grass-roots officials are obliged to disclose their assets while those with more years' service and higher ranks are exempted.

In this regard, the scope of property declaration should be expanded to more officials, or it would be unfair and can not last.

A compulsory property declaration regime, which has served well in many developed countries, is a mighty weapon against corruption.

Property declaration by officials in the public sector conforms to the will of the people and reflects the authorities' decisiveness to build a clean and transparent government.

It is a long war to fight corruption, and improving the property declaration system could be a vital and forceful tool.