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China: CPC Aims to Curb Corruption Through Transparency Reform
Source: Xinhua News Agency
Source Date: Saturday, November 27, 2010
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Country: China
Created: Nov 30, 2010

It was the same people in the same building, but Li Zhenhe felt strangely welcome on a recent visit to the Cheng'an County government. The security guards, unusually, warmly showed him the way instead of blocking him for having no appointment.

At the sides of the building gate were 32 bulletin boards where job descriptions of the county leader, Zhang Chenliang, chief of the Cheng'an County Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) , and other senior officials, complete with photos, resumes and mobile and office phone numbers were on show.

Also displayed was a breakdown of the financial expenditure of the government's various departments and explanations about the county's major projects and issues of public concern.

"It has made me feel like I was being served," says Li, a farmer of Guzi Village, Cheng'an County in north China's Hebei Province. "We are encouraged to know what is happening inside the building and may knock on the door and enter the offices of the county's top leader."

Cheng'an is one of the three pilot counties chosen from China's 2,862 counties in March last year to spearhead the reform on power transparency of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). The other two were Suining, in eastern Jiangsu, and Wuhou, in southwestern Chengdu.

Of the three, Suining has the biggest population at 1.32 million, followed by Wuhou at 580,000 and Cheng'an at 360,000.

The CPC Central Committee's Discipline Inspection Commission and Organizational Department jointly issued guidelines last week, signaling an expansion of the trial to more counties.

Describing county governance as an "essential link" in the Party's organizational structure and national administration, the document said that increasing transparency at county level was a significant measure to standardize the use and strengthen the supervision of Party authority. It would also help prevent grassroots corruption.

Observers in Beijing see the reform as an imperative step for the CPC to improve its governing mechanism based on more intra-Party democracy and open management of Party affairs.

"The reform at county level will promote the progress of China's political civilization in the long run," says Zhang Xixian, vice director of the Party Building Department at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

Public responsibilities
In China's political hierarchy, county chiefs have long been viewed as grass-root positions of great importance because they are a bridge between higher authorities and the general public.

Ancient Chinese wisdom has it that "only when a county is in order, can a nation be at peace." This has proved true as county Party chiefs appear very vulnerable to corruption.

In neighboring Henan, more than 20 chiefs of the CPC's county committees have been penalized since 2006 for illegal practices. In one notorious case, Li Yinkui, former chief of the CPC's Fengqiu County Committee, was found to have accepted 1,575 bribes worth more than 12 million yuan (1.8 million U.S dollars).

A public outcry after the case led to demands that the power of Party chiefs at county level be contained through effective supervision and for the prevention of officials' personal power becoming Party decisions.
Reflecting on Cheng'an's pioneering work over the past 18 months, Zhang Chenliang says a major challenge was to clarify the rights and duties of each Party official and to standardize decision-making procedures.

The Cheng'an County authority has streamlined its daily governance into 345 categories, says Zhang. The decision-making power for each category has been clearly defined, with 185 going to the committee's standing committee, 110 to the committee's discipline inspection commission and other departments and the rest going to the full committee.

"The key is to make sure each department of the county's Party Committee has a clear idea what it is responsible for," says Zhang. By making their responsibilities public, residents will know who to turn to if there is a problem or complaint."

Balancing power
As the momentum of reform spreads, more provinces are moving to increase transparency.

"Power of CPC county committees is an issue of great public concern," said Zhou Bin, an official with the Organization Department of the CPC's Henan Provincial Committee. Zhou said local authorities must pressure the chiefs of CPC county committees to implement the guideline.

"It is of great significance to root out corruption at source," Zhou said.

"Judging from the work of existing pilot counties, I think the reform awareness and capability of a county's top leader will play an essential role," says Dong Tianming, deputy head of the office for open government of Henan Province.

Experiments are underway. Central China's Hubei, for instance, issued in September a regulation that limits the right of the chiefs of county committees to nominate officials and authorizes county discipline commissions to directly report to Party committees at upper levels.

Ren Jianming, director of the Anti-Corruption Research Center of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, doubts the viability of the regulation as, in reality, the discipline watchdogs at county level remain subordinate to those they are supposed to supervise.

Although there is no ready-made solution, Dai Yanjun, vice director of the Party Building Department of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, says the target is to facilitate intra-Party democracy through which decision-making, executive and supervising powers balance each other.

"China cannot copy another country's power pattern," says Dai. "We should explore our own way of reform within the Party's basic mechanisms, step by step."
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