Auditor-General Li Jinhua exposed extensive misuse of public funds by some government departments in his recent report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The report has drawn wide media attention. The following are excerpts of some media comments.
Beijing Youth Daily: The "Audit Storm" unleashed by Auditor- General Li Jinhua on June 25 shows no sign of abating.
Media reports are filled with responses from government departments that were criticized in Li's report, but the responses are mixed.
One official from the Yangtze Water Resources Commission, which was accused of collusion with jerry-builders in embankment construction, accused audit offices of trying to score political points by disclosing misconducts that were already uncovered. The commission later denied the official's claim, saying his remarks were not authorized.
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), also named for engaging in financial misconduct, declared it has worked to fix those loopholes and has so far disciplined 336 staff members.
The ICBC's swift move has to some extent quenched public anxiety that the problems listed in Li's report would not be repaired and relevant officials would not be held accountable.
Optimistic as we are, we should also take note that problems uncovered by Li's office are not merely official misconduct or improper dealings -- some of them are clearly in violation of laws.
It is important that self-disciplinary actions be taken to fix those problems, but timely intervention by law enforcement is vital to see to it that justice is done.
Only by bringing those responsible to justice can the crusade against on-duty crime be effective.
In the process, law enforcement should release relevant information to the public in a timely manner through media while conducting their investigations. This could ensure fairness and transparency, which in turn could boost public confidence in the war against corruption and be supportive of the audit office's work.
Beijing News: "Startling" is the word people are using to describe Li's report. And this is not exaggerated, considering the scope and extent of official misconduct in the use of public money.
The misused money amounted to 1.4 billion yuan (US$170 million) in last year's budget.
Financial malpractice was discovered at 41 of the 55 surveyed departments in the central government and its affiliates.
The situation is so serious that even emergency funds earmarked for disaster-relief programs were defaulted.
It is brave of the National Audit Office to publicize all these problems. intransparency and lack of supervision in the past were main contributors to the rampant misuse.
Now a responsibility check is expected after the "audit storm."
The audit office has delivered its annual report to the National People's Congress in recent years. But it seems that problems not only aren't properly solved, but actually get worse. Why? The lack of a responsibility system is a major reason.
Past financial malpractice uncovered in the audit reports was not properly dealt with. Those officials involved either got no punishment or just changed places while keeping the titles, but they were not held responsible for the malpractice.
Sometimes the problem-ridden individuals were punished but institutional problems were ignored.
Now a responsibility system is under construction in China. And the penalty on the malfeasant officials should be publicized too, as public supervision is a major part of the responsibility system.
Southern Weekend: The report Li delivered exposed the unprecedented depth and breadth of funding abuse. The media have also looked into the problem, in addition to hailing the auditor-general's frankness and severity.
To solve the issue of rampant misuse of public funds, authorities should consider letting the audit departments be accountable to the legislature, or the people's congresses, instead of government offices.
This would help the audit offices better perform their duties and enhance supervision by the people's congresses.
The National Audit Office was first launched in 1983. It is the watchdog for State assets and taxpayers.
According to the Constitution and the Audit Law, the office will conduct independent auditing and supervision and will not be affected by other authorities.
But as part of the administrative system, the audit office can hardly get rid of problems coming along with internal supervision. That is why most audit offices in the world are completely independent of the government but report to parliaments or legislature.
The audit offices are responsible for taking care of State property. In China, all State property is theoretically owned by the people. Budgets should be worked out by governments for use of public funds, and be approved by the people's congresses. Budget performance should be supervised by the public, while people's congresses are the institutions to enforce the power on behalf of the people.
For a long time the people's congresses have more or less been in an embarrassing situation when performing their functions.
Take budget approval for example -- a duty endowed by the Constitution that has not been performed well.
Local people's congresses, especially at the municipal and county levels, have not established budget committees. And there are only about 20 people working for the budget committee of the National People's Congress.
In contrast, there are around 80,000 employees in the audit departments nationwide, including 2,000 in the National Audit Office, the majority of whom are accounting professionals.
If these people could work for the people's congresses, the supervision function of the congresses would be greatly enhanced.
(China Daily July 5, 2004)