'Strictest' asset reporting system still leaves out too much: experts

2016-02-01 08:45Global Times Editor: Qian Ruisha

The authorities recently announced that more than 3,900 officials were disqualified from promotion after misreporting their assets in 2015, which triggered discussions over the "strictest" asset declaration system China introduced last year.

Officials at the deputy county level or above are required to report personal information annually to the Party, including personal and family assets and investments, any overseas travel, as well as the nationality and occupations of their relatives, according to the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The system, firstly adopted at the end of the 1990s, had no verification or punishment mechanisms until changes made in 2015 detailed the items officials have to report and strengthened these elements.

However, the "strictest" system still fails to include some important asset types including officials' private vehicles and collections. To curb corruption, officials should make all their assets public, experts said.

Tightening rules

Ye Qing, a deputy director of the statistics bureau of Central China's Hubei Province, told the Global Times that officials needed to be more precise when reporting their assets in 2015 than in previous years.

"You couldn't just write down a rough estimate of the area of your house like you did in previous years. The figure had to be down to several digits after the decimal point," Ye said.

When and where they bought the house and for how much should also have been included in their reports.

According to China Central Television (CCTV), officials now have to explain themselves if the size of their property is over one square meter larger than the reported figure. Storage space, garages and factory buildings were newly included in the system in 2015.

"In past years, people could still submit their reports after they missed the deadline. But now they are not allowed to submit them again and get punishment right away if they miss it," He Wenkai, a deputy procurator-general of the Fangchenggang People's Procuratorate, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, told the Global Times.

Verification of reports was also boosted in 2015, as the sample rate for random checks was doubled from one in 20 to one in 10. Meanwhile, officials had to promise that they voluntarily accepted verification, and "lacking communication with spouses" was no longer a valid excuse for inaccurate declarations, according to CCTV.

Investments are a key part of asset declaration. The biggest change in reporting officials' investments is that they have to note the exact value of their stocks, futures and funds on the previous trading day, Ye said.

The authorities also ruled that false declarations will be recorded for life, and will be considered during performance assessment and appointments.

Some government organs also set reporting standards.

A government in Sichuan Province officially defined "underreporting" as underreporting the size of a property by 50 square meters or less and underreporting the size of investments by 100,000 yuan or less, according to public WeChat account of the Beijing Youth Daily.

Reporting that is less accurate than this is considered "concealing assets." Officials found to have concealed assets can be disqualified for promotions or even removed from their positions.

Driving forward

Private vehicles are excluded in current asset declaration forms in Hubei, according to Ye, adding that officials are increasingly driving their own cars after 2104's government vehicles reform. "To prevent people bribing officials with vehicles, the system should include vehicles in the next phase," Ye said.

Art collections should also be included in the system, Hu Xingdou, a political science professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, told the Global Times.

Many corrupt officials were found to have collected artworks. Liu Zhijun, former railway minister who was given a suspended death penalty in 2013, received art worth 13 million yuan ($2 million), according to the Procuratorial Daily. To curb graft, officials should disclose their assets to the public as well as the Party, said Zhu Lijia, a public management professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.


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