The continued battle against corruption by the Chinese government seems to be paying off with an improving public image and a good deal more transparency which has the potential to ensnare even more dirty officials.
Over the past year hundreds of corrupt officials have been penalized for taking bribes, seeking illegal gains or neglecting the public's interests.
From August 2005 to June 2006, China dealt with 13,376 commercial bribery cases, involving 3.76 billion yuan (US$470 million), according to the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The crackdown on commercial bribery, which normally refers to bribes offered by companies to government officials in exchange for special favors, was the highlight of the commission's work last year.
A total of 3,128 cases, or 23.4 percent of commercial bribery, involved government employees directly. Those cases had a monetary value of some 968 million yuan (US$121 million) or 25.7 percent of the total sums involved in commercial bribery.
The commission's seventh plenary session is expected to begin soon.
Cleaning up coal mines
The commission's campaign to force government officials to reveal and withdraw their investment in coal mines has also been central to their work.
It issued an ultimatum in August 2005 requiring government officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, none of whom are allowed to engage in private businesses, to withdraw their shares in coal mines.
More than 5,370 officials voluntarily reported total investments of 755 million yuan (US$94 million) in coal mines. Almost 94 percent of those officials have divested their stakes in coal mines which were worth a total of 709 million yuan (US$88.6 million).
The public has also helped with the commission's crackdown on cross-ownership of coal mines. They made 1,022 complaints against officials who were involved in coals and the commission has so far investigated 928 of these.
The commission's statistics show that 148 officials who failed to report and divest their ownership in coal mines were given disciplinary punishment, 122 were demoted or relieved of their posts and 45 faced criminal prosecution.
The move to force government-paid officials, who are supposed to regulate mines, to divest and end their conflict of interest is an element of the Party's efforts to curb accidents in the coal mining industry.
Many small and unsafe coal mines, some of them illegal, often fail to observe safety rules because they're protected by local officials who have a financial interest in the mines. Close to 5,000 people were killed in China's coal mines last year.
Safeguard the public's interests
The commission also investigated many cases that directly affected people's wallets especially through illegal fees charged by educational and medical institutions.
Over the past year, the commission and the Ministry of Supervision, whose work parallels that of the commission, investigated 16 major cases of unwarranted educational and medical fees, forcing the institutions to return over 200 million yuan (US$25 million) to individuals.
The campaign against illegal fees also required local governments to amend 382 regulations that contravened central government policies on charging parents education fees. This wiped out the fees of 1,448 people who were being illegally charged.
Discipline commissions at provincial levels or lower dealt with 2,535 cases of bribery in the medical sector. These cases involved 606 million yuan (US$75 million) that mainly involved pharmaceutical manufacturers bribing doctors to write unnecessary prescriptions for their drugs.
Doctors and nursing staff in local hospitals were forced to hand over more than 240 million yuan (US$30 million) in ill gotten gains.
The commission has also targeted those who've wronged migrant workers and peasants who had their salaries delayed, their farmland illegally seized or homes demolished without adequate compensation.
By the end of last June construction workers in various parts of the country had been paid 177 billion yuan (US$21.9 billion) in back wages. This is 95.2 percent of the total that had been in arrears.
Step up pollution control
As more public complaints about pollution emerged in recent years the commission made environmental protection one of its top priorities.
Since 2005 local discipline inspection commissions have kept a close watch over heavy-polluting industries in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions.
During the first half of last year it put on file and investigated more than 400 violations of environmental laws and regulations and punished more than 200 individuals.
The commission also sent 20 teams of inspectors across the country in a bid to curb foolhardy investments, construction of unnecessary and wasteful "image projects" and development that harmed the local environment.
The commission along with the Ministry of Supervision and the State Environmental Protection Agency jointly enacted last February interim regulations governing the country's comprehensive environmental protection laws.
It is now a dereliction of duty for officials to develop their local economies at the expense of the environment.
Promote government transparency
The commission's inspectors are also checking the performance of local governments and state-owned enterprises to ensure officials and managers are making their administrative powers transparent to public scrutiny.
By last July the commission had inspected the procedures, regulations and administration of 31 provincial governments, four State asset management corporations and nine state-controlled banks.
Provincial government commissions also inspected the administration of government and state-owned enterprises within their jurisdiction.
More than 10,000 government officials were called to account for slack law enforcement in the first half of this year.
The commission has also worked to inform the public of the scope of the government's administrative powers. Many governments and departments have established websites that detail their regulations, powers and development plans. Many central government departments also hold regular news conferences where they inform the media of regulatory changes or new projects.
So far 85 percent of county-level and 83 percent of the city-level governments have opened administrative affairs and decision making to public view.
The commission's work over the past couple of years has helped improve social fairness, justice and the image of governments and the Party, analysts say.
(Xinhua News Agency January 8, 2007)