Tuesday 1 May 2007

Confucian values to reduce corruption: No drugs, mistresses, prostitutes or mistreating elderly relatives

As part of our "China corruption watch" comes the news from today's Guardian newspaper that:

Civil servants in China face sack for keeping a mistress

It is difficult to know how to interpret this latest attempt by China to crack down on corruption. This seems to be an attempt to "get to the root of the problem". However, it is hard not to think that civil liberties have to come in here somewhere.

The aim appears to be to prevent a "degenerate lifestyle". A worthy aim - I wonder how many UK or US civil servants lead such lifesytles that include "gambling and having a mistress"?

It comes down to the age of problem of how much to pay civil servants. In Singapore civil servants are paid very large amounts in the hope that will are rich enough not to have to endulge in corruption. In the UK civil servants are not paid particlary well and corruption is low.

Certainly, when one looks at overseas Chinese students, a lot of them appear to have government officials as parents. Is this changing?

China's 6.5 million civil servants were warned yesterday that they could be fired for keeping a mistress or neglecting elderly relatives, under new ethical guidelines aimed at curbing rampant corruption.

The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, signed the code of conduct, which will extend deep into the private lives of bureaucrats once it comes into effect in June.

Officials face possible dismissal if they are caught with a prostitute or abusing drugs, according to the People's Daily.

Reflecting the resurgence of traditional Confucian values, they can also be demoted if they abandon their families or fail to look after their parents.

The regulations' main aim is to prevent the abuse of power for financial gain. As well as bribery and embezzlement, civil servants can be sacked for setting up side-businesses without authorisation.

Beijing has been trying to rein in corruption for several years, but despite a handful of high-profile arrests - such as Chen Liangyu, the party secretary of Shanghai - the problem remains endemic.

The state media have linked several recent cases to the culprits' "degenerate lifestyles" - a term that normally refers to at least one mistress, as well as gambling. Last June, the former deputy mayor of Beijing was sacked amid reports that he used illegal funds to keep a pleasure palace on the city outskirts. The media said his mistress turned him in because she was jealous of his relationship with another woman. Four months later, the director of the national bureau of statistics, Qiu Xiaohua, was sacked amid claims that he milked public funds to maintain a bigamous relationship with a woman in Shanghai.

Reflecting government fears that many officials are fleeing the country to enjoy their ill-gotten gains and extramarital affairs, the new regulations also include punishments for civil servants who overstay overseas trips. Xinhua News Agency reported last week that 300 government employees have escaped overseas since 1998. In the 30 years since the start of China's market reforms, 4,000 officials suspected of crimes totalling $50bn (£25bn) are thought to have fled the country.

For years, graduates have flocked to secure government jobs, which are seen as a fast track to wealth. But the new guidelines attempt to emphasise the responsibilities and restrictions of public service.

Officials face punishment for negligence resulting in avoidable accidents, pollution or public protests. They are also forbidden from participating in strikes, joining illegal organisations or organising "superstitious gatherings".

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