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Taking corruption by the horns(2)

2014-03-13 09:58 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Second and more importantly, the various post-reform decentralization measures over the last three decades have led to powerful local-level coalitions, where overlapping responsibilities and asymmetric information sharing among various administrative units have created a situation where the central leadership's political message to fight corruption is not enough to neutralize vested interests. No wonder, Premier Li Keqiang once said: "It is more difficult to stir vested interests than stir a soul."

Third, the fiscal recentralization after 1994 and the subsequent withdrawal of agricultural tax had a major impact on local politics. On the one hand, the revenues of local governments were reduced; on the other hand, the burden of local officials was increased. The deliverable for local officials seems to be economic governance, which is achieved through economic growth, but by gradually infusing "social governance" components to evaluate performance, the higher authorities have put immense political pressure on local officials.

Sandwiched between reduced revenues and greater responsibilities, local officials are forced to use the transfer of land-use rights and connections with private businesses to generate funds for local causes. Therefore, more teeth are needed to fight corruption through institutional measures such as linking posts with performance, especially in terms of promotions, rewards and punishments. The idea should be to convey to local officials that for the people better quality of life is as important as higher individual incomes.

Keeping in view the above challenges, the anti-corruption drive initiated by the leadership headed by Xi has been reasonably successful. Critics who say the anti-corruption drive is nothing more than a cosmetic change with "big thunder and small rain" should realize that a beginning had to be made somewhere, and although the drive has a long way to go, it indeed is a bold step forward.

Besides, the anti-corruption drive has led to the arrests of some very high-level officials and senior executives, including one from the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission and some of the major SOEs. And in some cases, the action has been prompt. For example, Lei Zhengfu, Party secretary of a district in Chongqing, was removed within 60 hours of exposure in Internet chat rooms.

Whether it is an anti-corruption drive or environmental governance, fruitful outcomes cannot be achieved through only political objectives and carrot-and-stick policies. For fruitful results, one also has to measure the extent to which local officials make innovative use of their "creative spaces" in the political structure to improve the quality of people's lives in their respective constituencies.

The author, G.Venkat Raman, is assistant professor of humanities and liberal arts at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India, and a visiting fellow at the BRICS Center of Fudan University in Shanghai.

2014 Two Sessions

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