Beijing’s fight against corruption is now two years old. Some significant results have been achieved, winning strong public support. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to move the campaign forward.
The general public and government officials must agree that there are good reasons to continue the drive. Some government officials think they’ll be safe in the face of the anti-corruption drive if they make only perfunctory efforts to perform their duties. But the central leadership must not be deterred. Only by continuing the anti-corruption drive, deepening reform efforts, building rule of law, and encouraging capable officials to sharpen their pencils can there be any hope for our country.
Officials who sit idly at their desks and neglect their duties in hopes the storm will pass are fooling themselves. What they’re doing is not new, although the phenomenon in recent years has gotten worse. The underlying cause is the system. Legally, there is no way to punish this behavior. As a result, the government has become less efficient and in some areas the governing process has been crippled.
But now, as the economy slows and political reform becomes more urgent, something needs to be done. The nation’s problems cannot be addressed promptly unless idlers in government offices are dealt with properly.
The central leadership is aware of the issue’s seriousness. At a press conference during the annual NPC and CPPCC sessions in March, Premier Li Keqiang highlighted the need to discipline and hold accountable all officials who are found guilty of misconduct and negligence.
The fight against corruption must be strengthened to avoid failure. Officials who procrastinate in hopes of waiting out the campaign are not only uncooperative, but they’re acting maliciously. It proves that they pursued power to satisfy their own greed. Thus, authorities must carry on with the anti-graft drive.
Root causes of this idling in government offices can be traced to flaws in the system for recruiting and appointing officials, and to how an official’s on-the-job performance is evaluated. Rules spelling out job requirements are insufficient. Government officials have never been properly encouraged to excel, and they receive few instructions on exactly how they should exercise power. Some wield broad power and are affected by interconnected interests, nepotism, political-business ties, and even politician-gangster relationships. This has formed a giant network of power and special interests. This network has yet to be eliminated by the anti-corruption drive.
Continuing political and economic reforms could be the best weapon in the fight against these problems. The powers of government officials must be redefined to guarantee that they discharge their duties correctly and do not excessively regulate or interfere with the market economy and civilian rights.
The abuse of power supports corruption. So the power that’s supposed to protect the market economy is being used to manipulate or destroy it. And power that’s supposed to be used to combat illegal behavior, maintain the economy, and defend law and order is being misused by corrupt individuals seeking personal gain.
The State Council is making efforts to improve government administration, delegate and redefine various powers, and streamline the administrative approval process. If these efforts succeed, there could be less room for rent-seeking activities, and the motives behind corruption could be eradicated. The effect of such reforms would be felt over time. With changes will come improvements.
There are several kinds of unproductive government officials, and relatively few are corrupt. Some are among the many ambitious, capable officials who are eager to serve the public but do little because they fear being criticized. So changes must be made to support honest and diligent officials. Steps must be taken to overhaul systems for assessing and appointing government officials. And changes must be made to make sure the anti-corruption drive continues.
Policymakers have to fully appreciate the limits of government policy. They should also work to root out the evil “Four Winds” of formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism, and waste. All should understand that there’s a difference between normal, acceptable political-business relations and illegal collusion.
Even more importantly, the judicial system should be reformed in ways that promote impartiality and stringent adherence to the law. The system should support the idea that “all are equal before the law” through decisions based on relevant precedents. While the law should be strictly enforced, basic human rights and litigation rights must also be protected, so that any officials investigated for alleged corruption do not have cause to complain about unfairness. This process can also serve to sternly warn other officials as well as to effectively educate society as a whole so that citizens understand how the law works. As improvements become manifest, we will manage to build a society governed by law.
We cannot afford to lose the fight against corruption. If we fail to pursue corrupt officials and ignore idlers in government offices, the consequences could be disastrous. Corruption could deepen, and all of the campaign’s early successes could become meaningless. Corruption and idleness must be properly addressed.
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