Despite its success in handling the most recent financial crisis, China faces progressively an even greater challenge to its long term development: corruption. Widespread, dangerous, and socially despised, corruption in China is now a dangerous phenomenon. Both independent and semi-official statistics show that corruption is the country’s leading issue, as it affects the country’s development, causes greater social differences, and gives China a poor international reputation.
According to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2009 China placed 79th in the list of the countries with the highest corruption rates. Public authorities and political administrators are all involved in the process. Last year, eighteen high ranking dignitaries (equivalent to ministers) were forced to resign on corruption charges. Similar cases regarding civil and provincial servants – including charges and arrests alike – have also been widely present.
Unhealthy income and wealth distribution deriving from illicit activities could become one day the leading cause to eventual socio-economic instability in China. Beijing is aware of the problem and is taking corrective measures to overcome it.
It is no easy task: corruption is probably higher at the periphery than at the centre and increased accountability and/or local elections are no answer (in Sicily, Mafia was at its lowest during Mussolini’s regime; in the last 65 years of supposed local democracy, crime and corruption have been getting worse).
In China’s inversed propaganda model, the issue is not concealed, but progressively publicized. Perception of danger prevails over ‘the common good’, leading to social and political repression as well as corrective campaigns.
Hu Jintao’s speech, held at the Disciplinary Commission, clearly addressed corruption as a phenomenon that impedes fair working grounds caused by illegal practices. A 52-point behavioural code was adopted by the state to manage the issue, banning: the acceptance of presents of any sort, participating in luxurious private formal events, or inappropriate practices regarding national interests.
Furthermore, the country’s most important political members need to keep the competent authorities informed about their families as well (such as travelling overseas and domestic expenses). This policy is directly aimed at government officials, like the 4,000 ones who, between 1978 and 2003, left China with their families to go live abroad – bringing with them an estimated total of US$ 50 million.
Time will tell, although corruption is a cancer that needs to stopped before it reaches vital organs of the state itself. Economic and social development, a good education system coupled with independent, competent and fairly compensated judiciary system is commonly the best medicine, but it will take China a long time to get there. Right now the fight against corruption in China is a race against the time. Will corruption get so strong to stifle development? Or socio/economic and institutional development will improve so fast to kill corruption before it takes control?
The country’s fragile scenario is also host to unusual practices as well. The city of Jiangmen, located in the Guangdong province, started a “clean governance fund” for honest working public employees. Financial aid from the city’s municipal authorities and part of civil servants’ retribution (proportionally speaking) are the bases for this fund. These workers can thus withdraw up to 70% if their nominal fee after a five-year span, given that they are integral and innocent from corruption. The remaining part of the fund would then be redistributed through retirement.
Overall, this initiative proves extravagant, as it is probably enabled by a zeal aimed at Beijing’s directives. Two main questions arise as a result: the first refers to the extent of the phenomenon as a whole, while the second regards the simple – but not simplistic – methodology involved. If corruption is the end result of mishandled money, it’s wiser to use that same money to compensate honest working citizens.