BEIJING – To fight corruption at the grassroots, China’s central authorities have issued the first regulations forbidding township and village officials from appropriation of land, embezzlement and vote buying.
The regulation applies to millions of officials at the lowest administrative level in China’s 600,000 villages. Experts said many such officials are key decision-makers but have been under “lax supervision” and have “poor understanding” of the law.
The general offices of the Central Party Committee and the State Council published the regulations on village officials’ code of duty recently.
“Although many regional governments have come up with their own codes, we need a unified institutional one that can be applied nationwide,” a senior official with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Party told Xinhua News Agency.
Liu Ting, the commission’s inspector, said the regulation covers most major issues that stir rural residents’ dissatisfaction with grassroots officials.
It forbids 41 acts of misconduct, including appropriating lands, embezzling subsidies to farmers, taking advantage of local businesses and spending unnecessarily on events.
It also prohibits officials from abusing their power or influence to gain benefits for their relatives. Using the power of religious groups, clans or organized gangs to interfere with or sabotage elections is also banned.
Although online polls on the website of the People’s Daily last year showed that 71 percent of the participants thought corruption was most severe at county level, many also said that corruption at grassroots level cannot be ignored.
According to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, prosecutors investigated 8,806 officials at village and township level for possible bribery as well as 1,946 for dereliction in the first 10 months of 2008. While 7,175 grassroots officials were investigated for job-related crimes in 2009.
Lin Zhe, an anti-corruption expert, said although the public recently noticed a trend for more senior officials to be involved in corruption cases involving larger amounts of money, corruption was also infiltrating the grassroots level.
In one case, a former Party secretary, surnamed Liu, of Zidong village, Nanzhuang township in Guangdong province, embezzled 23.7 million yuan ($3.68 million) of public funds, according to local prosecutors.
“Why do we become officials? Isn’t it for the money?” Jin Xinhua, former head of Huoyutang village in Zhejiang province, once asked the village accountant after making a false report of construction costs. Jin has been accused of accepting 300,000 yuan in bribes in 2009.
According to a published case study by the Procuratorate of the Aksay Kazak autonomous county, Gansu province, the officials’ poor understanding of the law is the fundamental reason behind job-related crime.
The absence of an effective supervision system triggers crime and disorder in local financial management, the essay, published in May, said.
Professor Shi Hexing, of the Chinese Academy of Governance, told China Daily that, although corruption could not be eliminated quickly, the regulation that clearly forbids 41 acts of misconduct should increase awareness of good governance among local officials.
“It defines what are public interests, and how officials at village and township level should handle conflicts between individuals and the public a key step in avoiding corruption.”
Officials who violate the regulations will be reprimanded, suspended or removed from posts or have legal proceedings taken against them. Financial penalties, including deduction of allowances and compensating costs, can also be applied.