On 5 February, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced the investigations of three central management cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Over the past month, the CCDI has already nabbed six central management cadres, showing that the CCP will not soften its crackdown on “tigers”, or corrupt officials.
Appointed by the party
Central management cadres refer to those registered with the CCP’s Organisation Department, and are mostly senior officials of at least a deputy position at the provincial or ministerial level. The CCP Central Committee is in charge of the appointments of these central management cadres, while the Organisation Department has the authority to propose their appointment or investigate them.
The three cadres removed on 5 February are: Hao Hongjun, chair of the Party Leadership Group of the Dalian Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); Yi Pengfei, vice-chair of the Hunan Provincial CPPCC; and Jiao Xiaoping, deputy commander of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
They are suspected of serious violations of discipline and law, and are undergoing disciplinary review and supervisory investigation by the CCDI and the National Supervisory Commission (NSC).
Public information shows that Hao, 60, is a veteran in the discipline inspection and supervision system. He was vice-mayor of Yingkou and head of the city’s Public Security Bureau, as well as a member of the Standing Committee of the CCP Municipal Committee and secretary of the Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection for Fushun and Dalian. He was vice-secretary of the Liaoning Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection, and was elected chair of the Dalian CPPCC Municipal Committee in January 2022.
Once they lose their positions of authority with the attendant resources, and the protection of their networks, they become sitting ducks — one never knows when the sword of Damocles will fall.
Yi, also 60, was the vice-director of Hunan Provincial Planning Commission (later renamed Hunan Provincial Development Planning Commission), mayor of Huaihua and then Loudi. In January 2018, he was appointed vice-chair of the Hunan CPPCC Provincial Committee, as well as Chenzhou party secretary until March 2021.
Jiao, 57, was previously the vice-director-general, then director-general, of the China Public Private Partnerships Center. In June 2022, he became a member of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and was appointed deputy commander.
This year, the CCDI announced investigations of six central management cadres. On 6 January, the CCDI website carried a notice that Ji Binchang, chair of the Qingdao CPPCC Municipal Committee; He Zehua, deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration; and Wang Xuefeng, vice-chair of Hebei Provincial People’s Congress, were all under disciplinary investigation by the CCDI and NSC.
... when these top-ranking officials wield too much power, they run the risk of turning into autocrats.
Offence while in top positions
Four of these six cadres are second-ranked officials in the CPPCC and National People’s Congress. Historically, once such cadres take a step back from their frontline leadership positions with real authority, their corruption is easily unearthed for the disciplinary agencies, and taken to action by the CCDI.
For example, Guangdong People's Congress vice-chair Chen Rugui was investigated in June last year. He was previously secretary of the Guangzhou Municipal Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Zhongshan party secretary, and Shenzhen mayor. After he left these high-powered positions, the CCDI found that he crossed disciplinary lines by colluding with unlawful businesses and accepting money under the table.
Sheng Guangzu, former head of the General Administration of Customs and former Minister of Railways, was found by the CCDI last year — five years after his retirement — to have engaged in cronyism, abuse of power and illegally collecting huge amounts of money.
So, the recent years have shown that even corrupt senior officials who have stepped down from a top position or have retired cannot get away unscathed. Once they lose their positions of authority with the attendant resources, and the protection of their networks, they become sitting ducks — one never knows when the sword of Damocles will fall.
Second-ranked officials fall from grace mostly because of an offence they committed when they held top positions in the party or the government. This indirectly reflects the authorities’ difficulties in supervising officials in top-ranking positions.
This results in the dilemma of “supervision from above being too far away, supervision at the same level being too weak, and supervision at lower levels being too difficult”.
On the one hand, authorities need to grant top-ranking officials sufficient authority to maintain institutional operations and control personnel appointments, finances and property. On the other hand, when these top-ranking officials wield too much power, they run the risk of turning into autocrats.
Amid a lack of effective supervision, these “autocrats” have their hands in everything; have the final say in decisions; hold complete financial power; and wield absolute power over personnel appointments. This results in the dilemma of “supervision from above being too far away, supervision at the same level being too weak, and supervision at lower levels being too difficult”.
Strengthening inspection mechanism
While the authorities have strived to address this supervisory challenge, little progress has been made.
For example, while there are mechanisms in place aimed at supervising leading cadres such as “democratic life meetings” (where CCP cadres engage in criticism and self-criticism); declaration of personal assets; regulations on reporting on major matters; and financial monitoring systems, these formal mechanisms are mostly implemented by the top-ranking officials themselves, who are unlikely to act on limiting their own power.
At the same time, the top-ranking official’s social circle and daily activities outside of work are complex and hidden, making them easy targets for subordinates, and yet making it difficult for the higher-ups to effectively supervise them.
... it is also difficult to supervise the ways in which these high-ranking officials have directly or indirectly helped their friends and family to make business profits.
In addition, it is also difficult to supervise the ways in which these high-ranking officials have directly or indirectly helped their friends and family to make business profits. Based on the corruption scandals handled by the CCDI, there is no lack of husband-and-wife teams running businesses and father-son duos accepting bribes. Indeed, it is difficult to expose and launch investigations into top-ranking officials when they are still in office.
In June 2021, the CCP Central Committee released an opinion document that emphasised the need to strengthen the supervision of leading cadres and their teams, prioritise the supervision of top-ranking officials, and create an environment where leading cadres are always under supervision.
The document also established the responsibilities of Politburo members in supervising, educating and cautioning the top officials of relevant local governments and departments; and the responsibility of the CCDI and the CCP’s Organisation Department in strengthening the supervision, requiring them to set out separately the integrity and self-discipline of top-ranking officials in their supervision reports. This would aid in discovering problems and forming a deterrent.
Indeed, the inspection mechanism has played a positive role in investigating and deterring corrupt officials and top-ranking officials. This is because the inspection team can conduct corruption probes with little or no interference from the inspected party.
But such inspections are certainly not omnipotent. The fact that numerous officials who held top positions in the party and the government in the past were only investigated and punished after they stepped down from their prior positions demonstrates that they can often escape unscathed when they are in the top position.
Hence, effectively supervising the top officials in the party and the government and keeping them from corruption, bribery and abuse of power will remain a long-term challenge for the CCP in implementing a full and strict governance over the party.
This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “中纪委元宵节连打三“虎””.
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