China's top discipline watchdog is taking a no-holds-barred approach to punishing malpractice in poverty-relief work, punishing offenders regardless of the severity of the crime.
In 2014, Bao Gabao, a former village head in Zhangxian County, a poor backwater in northwest China, embezzled 200,000 yuan (29,000 U.S.dollars) from the local budget, which had been allocated by the local authorities to cover the cost of buying 200 goats.
The goats should have been distributed among the village's poor families to increase their earnings. However, Bao covertly registered a company in the name of his relatives and falsified written consent from the poor families so he could claim the goats as his own assets.
Bao suffered the consequences -- including expulsion from the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Bao's case was one of eight publicized this week by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission of the Central Committee (CCDI), the CPC's top anti-graft organ, when it reviewed corruption in the country's poverty alleviation campaigns.
In another case, an official with the poverty alleviation office in north China's Hebei Province was punished for appropriating funds that were meant to be used to purchase 82 cows for poor families.
For the past four years, China has allocated a total of 196.1 billion yuan (about 28.5 billion U.S. dollars) to various poverty relief projects.
Though the money value of a goat or a cow may seem just like a drop in the ocean when compared with the hefty central budget on poverty relief, it could make or break a family.
In some extreme case, free access to animal husbandry would be the only lifeline for the poor villagers to climb out of poverty.
GOATS MAKE A DIFFERENCE, NO KIDDING
China set 2020 as the target year to complete building a "moderately prosperous society," and a key goal of the target is to eradicate poverty.
It has lifted 700 million people out of poverty over about 30 years, but in the coming years poverty relief work will become increasingly more difficult as it nears its end.
There were still 43.35 million people living in poverty by the end of 2016.
China is now following a targeted poverty alleviation strategy, meaning appropriate resources should be used on the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Local authorities must make sure every poor family has a program for increasing income and every poor person has a way of casting off poverty.
Efforts have been made to help the poor to have a hand in their own destiny, and various methods, including providing poor families with livestock, have been rolled out to this end.
Poverty eradication does not necessarily mean industrial projects. In rural areas, for example, husbandry is more suitable.
Against such a backdrop, the central authorities will not accept corruption in any form and, as such, stern measures have been rolled out to address deception, falsification and corruption in poverty elimination work.
China is in the midst of a five-year campaign to crack down on corruption by officials involved in poverty relief work.
Prosecutors targeted some key fields, such as relocation, land use, house renovation, education and fiscal subsidies, in the campaign.
They investigated and handled 1,892 officials who were linked to the misuse or embezzlement of poverty relief funds in 2016, doubled the number in 2015.
The Ministry of Finance and the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CPAD) on March 16 also started a targeted inspection on the use and management of poverty relief funds, aiming to uncover any irregularities in the initiative.
Disciplinary departments at the county and town level are now required to go to each village in person to inspect the problems on the ground and talk with residents at the grassroots level.
"Effective use of funds is vital at this phase. By strengthening supervision on the use of money, poverty relief work can achieve better results," said Liu Yongfu, director of the CPAD.
Liu's sentiments were echoed by Wang Yukai, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.
"Only through enhanced supervision and clean governance will precise poverty alleviation advance effectively, helping China accomplish its goal of building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way," said Wang.