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Audit Report Fallout Stirs Public Interest

One month after Auditor-General Li Jinhua delivered his report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee revealing embezzlement of public funds in some government departments, the "audit storm" is still a hot topic of discussion. The following are excerpts from media commentaries:

Beijing News: In a joint survey of 5,200 respondents carried out by China Youth Daily and the Xinhua website, 76 per cent expressed concern for Auditor-General Li Jinhua's personal security.

Such worry is not unwarranted, since his recent report to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee exposed some departments' misuse of public funds and will hurt the interests of some organs and individuals who might seek revenge.

Although now the National Audit Office (NAO) can carry out its work in line with laws, due to the incomplete construction of law-based administration, much work of the NAO still depends on administrative power.

Without enough legal references or support for auditing from senior officials, it is difficult for the NAO to carry on investigations. When they are pressured to release audit results in the face of potential retaliation, it makes them heroic in the eyes of the public.

To ensure auditing is carried out in a stable way and to safeguard auditors' security, legal procedures must be put in place.

With legal reference, the NAO will not depend on administrative support, and disputes between auditors and auditees would be settled through laws. Auditors could release their reports in related NPC meetings, while the auditees involved could also defend on these occasions. Through such a mechanism, truth could be pursued in an unencumbered fashion.

Progress has been made in auditing based on laws. The NAO has carried out work in line with some legal regulations and submitted the results to the NPC Standing Committee for release to media.

But it is improper that auditors and auditees make their arguments in the media. The argument mechanism should be introduced in meetings under the NPC.

When legal procedures are completed, people will no longer need to be concerned for auditors' personal security.

China Youth Daily: Problems revealed in Auditor-General Li Jinhua's report should be swiftly dealt with.

According to an official in a local audit bureau, the NAO has issued its subordinate a ban on giving interviews to any media not approved by the NAO.

An official in the NAO confirmed this, though he refused to answer other questions.

To make administrative affairs transparent, providing information is an obligation of government departments. It also fulfills the people's right to know. Thus the practice of government rejecting media interviews is usually criticized. But in this instance the NAO's restrictions on interviews is not to blame.

Strong responses to Auditor-General Li Jinhua's report have put the NAO and Li at the centre of the storm and stress.

The State General Administration of Sports admitted their misuse of money, but gave no account on how to correct the problem. What's more, they cited many excuses and warned the media not to highlight the case as if it was not them but the NAO and media who were guilty of wrongdoing.

A boss in the State Power Corporation, a problem-ridden department exposed by Li's report, even said "the NAO's disclosing of their problems has affected employees' morale in fighting against the country's power shortages." Some officials in the administration of Yangtze River embankment construction and management expressed their belief the NAO was merely trying to bolster its own credibility.

The "audit storm" has been blowing for a month. Except for the blowing-off of some low-rank officials, such as those being punished in the Dayao County of Southwest China's Yunnan Province for diverting disaster-relief funds, most of the big fish are still safe and sound, while the NAO has become the target of siege and attacks.

After he delivered the report, Li expressed that "non-intervention is the biggest support" to audit work from the central government. He said his job has never been compromised by any State leader. Such "non-intervention" is widely hailed by the public.

But in fact, support from the central government goes beyond "non-intervention." Li said the State Council has ordered related departments to conduct thorough investigations and administer severe punishment to those responsible.

But a month after the publishing of the report, what has been done to solve the problems?

It's time for related departments to make their moves.

Dahe Daily: Since Auditor-General Li Jinhua delivered his report to the NPC Standing Committee on June 23, people have been eagerly awaiting answers to some burning questions. Will the law breakers be held responsible? Will those involved in corruption be punished by law?

Now, one month later, why is it that some of those big fish have escaped unscathed?

Those ministries who made fools of themselves in the audit report either made excuses for their wrongful deeds or claimed the NAO was trying to boost its own merit.

Over the past month the NAO and the auditor-general have been under tremendous pressure.

A test of strength has been going on between the NAO and those problem ministries, and between Li Jinhua and the officials who stand accused.

People have every reason to worry about whether the NAO and Li will be defeated in this test.

The NAO and Li rely on the power granted by the Constitution and law, and are backed by public opinion and support, as well as State leaders' "non-intervention." But those problem ministries and figures depend on their long-cultivated power network and the "hidden rules of officialdom."

Past experience tells us that it is very possible that manipulated by certain departments and functioned by the dark rules, problem ministries and shadowy officials will be softly dealt with and the "audit storm" will simply blow over in the end.

If that turns out to indeed be the case, the public will justifiably feel ashamed and desperate.

Some people suggest upgrading the NAO and its subordinates so they can take an advantageous place in rank when supervising other departments. A high official in the NAO has suggested establishing an audit institution to share equal status with the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuraterate, and report directly to the NPC and its standing committee.

Determining whether these suggestions are workable still requires observation and study. But they certainly show people's concern over the battle between the NAO and those problem ministries.

Normally, the NAO should not be beaten given it has power granted by law, public support and State leaders' "non-intervention." Therefore, the "audit storm" is a touchstone.

The final result will clearly show which side stands stronger: rule by man or by law, the hidden rules of officialdom or governance according to law.

(China Daily July 26, 2004)

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