Graft Warning to Officials

The Lunar New Year season is typically one for gift-giving, eating, and travel.

A crowd at the Beijing railway station on Jan. 22, 2011 as millions travel across China to return home for the Lunar New Year.

China has warned its officials to swear off expensive parties and gifts ahead of the traditional Lunar New Year celebrations next month.

The ruling Communist Party's commission for discipline inspection has sent around a circular banning holiday gifts and expenses-paid trips, official media reported.

"Party officials must not accept gifts in any form," Xinhua news agency quoted the circular as saying.

Prohibited items and services include any that "could influence the fairness of official duty," such as attending banquets, and expenses-paid travels and entertainment, it said.

China's holiday season began on Jan. 1 and carries on through until the end of celebrations for the Chinese New Year, which fall this year on Feb. 3.


The season is typically one for gift-giving, eating, and travel.

The Chinese tradition of presenting gifts to family members and friends during the Lunar New Year has been extended to sending gifts to officials, Xinhua said, "which poses a challenge to the country's anti-corruption efforts."

The circular also warned officials to avoid extravagance, and prohibited them from spending sprees using public money for personal gains.

It ordered discipline inspection officials at all levels of government to crack down hard on any violations of the guidelines.

However, experts said that effective supervision of a single-party state was rendered almost impossible in a system where corruption is the norm, rather than the exception.

"There is no effective supervisory mechanism in society and no fair and impartial judicial system," said U.S.-based former Beijing Normal University professor Sun Yanjun. "Under such circumstances, it would be abnormal not to engage in either individual or collective corruption."

"The entire lifestyle of Chinese society is totally corrupt nowadays," Sun added.


And according to Xie Tian, professor of management at the University of South Carolina, the understated tone of the circular belied the endemic nature of the problem.

"They are trying to use a tactful way of bringing up the problem, but the fact that they have to do so already shows how powerless they are against systemic corruption," Xie said.

"The Chinese political system can easily turn a good person into a bad person," he said.

Xie said China under the Communist Party was similar to an imperial dynasty that was about to fall.
"From the president and the premier downwards, all their family are using their power to make money, so that corruption is a total, 100 percent phenomenon," he said.

"It's similar to the last days of an imperial dynasty."

"Destroy the party"

Sun agreed. "People are saying that not fighting corruption will destroy the country, while fighting it will destroy the Party," he said.

But he said China lacked an agency with any real supervisory power to combat system-wide graft.

"There is such a commonality of interest now, that not only does no one supervise the system, but the very organs that are supposed to be fighting corruption, like the anti-corruption bureau and the Party's commission for discipline inspection, have themselves become hotbeds of corruption," he said.

Security officials estimated last month that at least 580 Chinese nationals accused of illegal fundraising, bank loan fraud, illegally transferring funds abroad, and contract fraud are hiding out in other countries — mostly in North America and Southeast Asia.

China's rapid economic growth has been accompanied by an alarming increase in economic crimes, with almost daily reports of officials stealing millions of dollars from government offices or companies.

Reported in Mandarin by Shi Shan. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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