Will Judicial Work Reports Win High Approval Ratings?

Chinese lawmakers attending the ongoing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) have mixed feelings, as always in recent years, toward the annual reports delivered by the country's top judge Xiao Yang and top prosecutor Han Zhubin.

They, on the one hand, appreciated efforts made by the judiciary to advance judicial reform for fair justice; but, on the other hand, they candidly criticized them for failure to stamp out corruption and crack down upon crimes, as well as on the existence of corruption inside courts and procuratorates.

The work report of Xiao, President of the Supreme People's Court, and that of Han, procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, are subject to approval by the NPC session when it concludes on March 15.

Different from previous years, the nearly 3,000 deputies to the NPC seemed to have a clearer understanding of the roots of judicial corruption and what steps should be taken to make the principle of the rule of law prevail, judging by what they have said during discussions.

"People have come to realize that corruption is sometimes inevitable at a time of social transformation," said Jia Fukun, an NPC deputy from the People's Liberation Army, noting that in this period, a chaotic re-distribution of interests leads to unbalanced social values and blurred criteria of right and wrong.

"China has not been lucky enough to escape this trap over the past two decades," he said.

Even Premier Zhu Rongji admitted that China has only established a "preliminary" socialist market mechanism in his report to the session on March 5. "This means that China still has a long way to go to wipe out corruption," the general said.

When discussing the judiciary work reports, NPC deputies pointed out that it calls for a steady and relatively fair wealth distribution system and a series of widely recognized norms of conduct to contain corruption.

NPC Standing Committee Chairman Li Peng pledged in his work report that China will strive to institutionalize a legal system for its socialist market economy, which will eventually facilitate the establishment of a new wealth distribution system.

"Rule of virtue" and the creation of an ideological and moral system characteristic of a socialist market economy, as advocated by President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji recently, will provide guidelines for people's social behavior, analysts here say.

"China has made noticeable achievements in its legal construction, and all economic and social sectors are being geared into the right track," said Yu Wanling, an NPC deputy and vice- chairman of the Standing Committee of the Provincial People's Congress of Heilongjiang province.

The State Council's recent removal of nine ministerial-level bureaus just ahead of the NPC session is an indication that the government is dramatically giving up its presence in the market- oriented economy, he said.

"By and by, people will find it harder and harder to take advantage of government power for private gains," Yu said.

To the delight of many people, "the spirit of equality and justice is being accepted by more and more Chinese," he said.

Zheng Peng, a deputy from Yunnan Province, said, "We used to blame judiciary departments for a host of problems than could be laid at their doorstep and quite a number of deputies voted against their work reports during NPC sessions, because we were really frustrated and worried.

"Now we continue to air our criticisms and put forward suggestions, but they contain more anticipation from and confidence in the country's court and procuratorial systems."

Lawmakers said they are sympathetic with the "shortcomings and problems" admitted by Xiao Yang and Han Zhubin.

"When I heard Mr. Xiao say that he has not done enough to help local courts to guard against interference of local and departmental protectionism, I feel heavy-hearted," said Wang Minshi, a deputy from Tianjin.

"As the president of the Supreme People's Court, Mr. Xiao's words at the NPC session are a sign of helplessness and appeal," he said, adding "we cannot afford to do nothing about it."

Many lawmakers noticed that low salary and poor equipment have become excuses that some grass-level judges and prosecutors use to break the law.

Deputies called for better working conditions and higher wages for legal professionals, and at the same time, pointed out the urgency to resolve this problem.

"Corruption inside judiciary departments, which are social instruments of justice and fairness, is worse than other misconduct in society, because it erodes public confidence in the law, which is exactly the foundation of a market economy," he said.

Lawmakers spoke highly of Xiao and Han's promises made in their work reports on reforming the judicial system, enhancing the quality of legal professionals and eliminating the very few "black sheep" inside.

The execution of Cheng Kejie, a former vice-chairman of NPC Standing Committee, and Hu Changqing, vice-governor of Jiangxi Province, and the handling of Xiamen smuggling case last year demonstrated the determination of top authorities to wipe corruption, and serve as powerful deterrence against further crimes.

China initiated the ongoing anti-corruption drive in 1993, and various anti-corruption methods adopted have taken effect.

A top anti-corruption researcher with the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party, Li Xueqin, even predicted, "China is very likely able to contain corruption in five years."

Lawmakers said that with further improvement of China's legal system, which is going to be basically realized in five to ten years, respect to law and justice will be the common belief of every judge and prosecutor, and the society as a whole.

"China's legal system construction is progressing and the work of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Procuratorate is heading fast in the right direction; I believe their work reports will win quite high approval ratings this year," said Chen Hong, a deputy from Chongqiong.

(People’s Daily 03/14/2001)