By Xinhua writer Ma Guihua
BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- As China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), readies for its annual meeting in Beijing early next month, public interest is running high.
An online survey by www.people.com.cn, an influential news portal in China, showed that corruption is the issue netizens want the NPC gathering to address most.
Other issues netizens want the session to tackle are the widening gap between rich and poor, the skyrocketing cost of housing, the health system, pensions, and education.
In another online poll, 70 percent of respondents urged officials to declare their assets and emphasized the role of the Internet in preventing corruption.
This is the third consecutive year corruption has been the top issue on the eve of the NPC meeting.
The past few months have witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on corrupt government officials. Huang Songyou, former vice president of the Supreme People's Court, received a life sentence in January for embezzlement and taking bribes amounting to 3.9 million yuan (574,000 U.S. dollars) in exchange for favorable court rulings.
Huang was the first top judicial official convicted on corruption charges.
Some ten days later, Yu Renlu, former vice chief of the Civil Aviation Administration was sacked and kicked out of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) for "serious violations of discipline and law."
Yu was found to have used his position to benefit other people in return for "large sums" of bribes, a statement jointly issued by the CPC's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the Ministry of Supervision said. His case has been referred to prosecutors.
In February, a key figure in the high profile mob trials in southwest China's Chongqing municipality stood trial. Wen Qiang, former deputy police chief and director of the justice bureau in Chongqing, was accused of rape, taking more than 15 million yuan (2.2 million dollars) in bribes to protect criminal gangs, and possessing a huge amount of unexplainable assets.
The massive 8-month anti-gang crackdown in Chongqing revealed judicial corruption, with 200 judicial and public security officials implicated, noted former Chongqing mayor Wang Hongju.
A press briefing by the Ministry of Supervision in early January revealed that in the first 11 months of last year, more than 106,600 officials were either punished by the CPC or underwent administrative discipline. The ministry also said 4.44 billion yuan (653 million dollars) in public money had been recovered.
During the 11 months, the CCDI received 1.3 million tip-offs on alleged corruption practice, of which 140,000 cases of corruption were confirmed. Some 3,743 officials at county level and above were punished for graft last year, with 764 prosecuted. Compared with 2008, it was a 10.8 percent rise.
In addition, the number of corrupt officials punished for embezzling more than one million yuan (147,000 dollars) increased by 19.2 percent.
According to Gan Yisheng, deputy chief of CCDI, investigations mostly focus on malpractice related to the implementation of major government policies on expanding domestic demand to boost economic growth, as well as food and drug safety, environmental protection, land requisition and house relocation.
Bribery and corruption cases related to construction projects, land development and mineral resource exploration that prompted mass protests were also looked into.
Thirty years since China's reform and opening up, government functions have not developed as they should have, and the market economy has much to improve, too. Under such circumstances, administrative departments still hold the power to allocate resources in terms of planning, project approval, and investment, which might give rise to corruption in the absence of strict definitions of power and strict supervision.
"Corruption is more often than not the result of abuse of power," says Ma Huaide, vice president of the University of Political Science and Law. He believes that effective prevention and punishment of corruption depends on the improvement of laws that restrict and regulate power, as well as their implementation.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Commerce show that in the last three decades, some 4,000 corrupt officials have made off with over 50 billion dollars of public money to Canada, the United States, Australia, and other countries.
Ma calls for new laws on administrative procedure, property declaration and corruption prevention. In the meantime, he urges the "Regulations on Government Disclosure of Information" and the "Provisional Regulations on Administrative Accountability for Party and Political Leaders" be upgraded to laws.
Highly aware of the grave reality of widespread corruption, the ruling CPC last September issued a decision on Party building, saying problems and corruption among Party members "have seriously affected the consolidation of the Party's governing status and the realization of its governing mission."
In January, in a speech to the CCDI, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for more efforts to probe cases of "power abuse, corruption and embezzlement, as well as dereliction of duty".
The anti-corruption campaign has proved to be effective. At least 15 governor- and ministerial-level officials were reportedly removed last year for trading power for money.
The Ministry of Supervision, which monitors overseas trips made by government officials, conducted investigations into 319 officials in 2009. Meanwhile, officials' overseas trips at public expense in 2009 dropped 45.5 percent from the previous three-year average, said a National Bureau of Corruption Prevention report.
A document newly released by the Bureau made special mention of supervision of public officials whose spouse and children have moved abroad. Officials are also being required to disclose personal assets, like housing and investments, as well as their spouses' and children's jobs to relevant disciplinary bodies as a prelude to the ushering in of a asset-declaration system.
"Corruption from within is the major threat to the ruling party during peacetime," wrote Shao Jingjun, research fellow with the CCDI research section, in the latest edition of "Qiushi" magazine.
The CPC's tough approach and improved mechanisms to prevent and punish graft, together with a rights-conscious public vigilant on the Internet, will exorcise the "political cancer" epidemic.