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War against corruption
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This month alone, four more senior officials, all at the level of vice minister, have been declared to be under investigation for "serious violations".

Each time a high-ranking official was brought down on corruption charges, we saw the public enthralled, applauding the resolve of the authorities - that is, the Communist Party of China's (CPC) - to push ahead with the fight against corruption. No wonder the applause sounds louder this time. Seeing four, including one in the National People's Congress Standing Committee and an assistant minister of Public Security, fall in such a short time is indeed unusual.

Congratulations to the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). With official media interpreting these as a portent of an "all-out assault" on corruption, public responses, as shown on the Internet, are quite positive.

Given the popular assumption that corruption is pervasive, everyone is more than happy to see more corrupt elements debunked and get what they deserve. The CCDI has been effective in delivering that. For its role behind the revelations of nearly all corruption scandals involving senior officials, the CPC discipline watchdog has built itself the image of an efficient, all-mighty corruption buster.

The CCDI does have unparalleled authority and resources. But it, too, has limitations. For one, the CPC has 70 million members. Can we expect the CCDI to take care of all violations? That some not-so-high-ranking local officials had not been investigated, until their abuses became intolerable and the CCDI intervened, shows that the CPC's local discipline watchdogs are far less effective. Yet the CCDI alone cannot carry the burden.

True, public oversight is a source of big support. But, ultimately, the effectiveness of the public's role rests on how much they know about the inner workings of public institutions. In spite of the high-profile document on transparency, most government agencies have continued to persist with keeping the public in the dark.

"In order to make sure powers are properly used, they must be made to operate in the sunshine", said President and CPC Central Committee General Secretary Hu Jintao at the Party's 17th National Congress. That is where the ultimate solution lies.

Transparency is not just about the CCDI informing us who is to be disgraced and for what. An all-round approach to corruption entails corresponding institutional arrangements, in addition to redoubled diligence on the CCDI's part.

We have seen headway made in a number of new documents on corruption prevention. But the focus has largely been on intra-party supervision. More anti-corruption measures would reportedly be announced later this year. They should incorporate ways to actualize Hu's call for transparency.

(China Daily June 22, 2009)

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