Press and public needed to keep politicians clean

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, March 4, 2010
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Politicians the world over, from whatever end of the political spectrum, are quick to tell us they serve the best interests of the people.

But for some, their actions betray their words, as they become more accomplished at serving their own interests ahead of the people's. Corruption remains the Chinese public's top concern for the third year running.

Some Chinese government officials have been accused of using public funds to dine, travel abroad and buy luxuries, while others have been executed or imprisoned after being caught dipping into the public purse to the tune of millions of yuan.

Meanwhile, the UK Parliament has been rocked by an expenses scandal which has forced a host of high-profile Members of Parliament (MPs) to resign before the coming general election.

It was recently revealed that the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown receives a lower basic salary than some top executives at the redbrick Leeds University. No matter how important they become, or how powerful they are, they still work in the public sector and should therefore expect a public sector salary.

Politicians should not have unrealistic material expectations, because they have chosen to work in a public sector geared toward serving the general public.

If they are looking to make a fortune, they should leave politics and join the private sector. Yet it seems that banks and politicians the world over are fast becoming hate figures among the general population, and are both in dire need.

If politicians continue to misuse their power, they will lose the public's trust and ultimately their mandate to rule with it.

In the UK, MPs could not be trusted to police themselves. Scrutiny by the media under the UK's Freedom of Information Act, which allows the public to probe into the affairs of public bodies, forced news of MP's expenses claims to be made public.

Cases of over-claiming council tax on second homes, tax evasion, over-claiming on food, furnishing of other homes and so on were unearthed, the result of which has seen a few sackings and a scattering of solemn resignations.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been quoted as saying "democratic supervision" is the only way to address the problems of corrupt officials. On this point, yesterday sees the commencement of China's largest consultative process, the "Two Sessions," namely the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People's Congress (NPC).

There are several proposals delegates could suggest to combat corruption among officials.

The cross-section of the Chinese society represented at the CPPCC constitutes a golden opportunity of putting forward proposals which can allow for greater scrutiny of public finances and in turn rebuild the public trust in officials.

The people have the right to know how their money is being spent. Members should push for the press to be permitted to play a more important role. As demonstrated by the expenses scandal in the UK, the media can be the difference between illegal acts being perpetrated unnoticed or the culprits being caught and brought to justice. But the media needs to be supported by tough legislation.

NPC deputies and CPPCC members should require officials to "declare interests" before taking office, to avoid conflict of interests when formulating legislation or spending public money.

Finally, independent audits of government finance are a necessity if China is serious about putting an end to corruption and regaining public trust. The "Two Sessions" should push for independent audits where auditors are well paid to avoid being "bought."

Wishful thinking aside, if this opportunity can be grasped and officials can be held accountable through a combination of powerful legislation, an inquisitive media and independent inquiries, China will become a better and more honest place to live.

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