While doing research for an article, I stumbled upon this gem from Global Times from a few months ago about some innovative and practical new anti-corruption measures. Here’s some snippets:
All civil servants in Tongzhou district of Beijing will be wearing a pin on their lapel from now on as a reminder to turn down bribes and stay clean. As the first branded anti-corruption campaign in China, the Tongzhou government spent a year deciding on a logo and has high hopes for the scheme.
The logo will also appear on bookmarks, calendars in government offices and billboards, “so civil servants are constantly reminded of self-discipline and anti-corruption,” said Song.
The next step in the campaign will feature anti-corruption sculptures in Qingfeng park, a small area in Tongzhou Forest Park, to be built next year.
Anti-Corruption lapel pins and sculptures! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?! If people simply have subtle reminders that corruption is wrong, they won’t do it. Well in the spirit of the new campaign, I’ve thought of a few more ideas for Tongzhou’s anti-corruption efforts:
- Make school kids write “I will not be corrupt” 1,000 times on the chalkboard.
- Have restaurants serve fortune cookies with the message “You will meet someone new…and not accept any bribes from them.”
- Build towering hundred foot statues of Mao looking down accusingly over every city.
- Change the currency itself to have Lei Feng’s disappointed looking picture with the caption: “Would I do what you’re about to do?”
I wouldn’t put any of these ideas past the Tongzhou or national government. Some other
slightly more practical measures in other cities have included showing scare videos of fallen officials on death row, adding “external” supervision agencies (which are still accountable to the Communist Party), and anti-corruption computer software. They’re willing to try almost anything to stop China’s rampant corruption…so long as it avoids what are inevitably the only real solutions: A free media and an independent judiciary.
Ever-harsher punishments have been the most trusted solution for years to the point that life imprisonment and even death sentences are now common for serious corruption offenses. The problem of course, is that very few are caught and even fewer are prosecuted.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did a report in 2007 which concluded based on disciplinary records “the odds of a corrupt [Chinese] official going to jail are less than three percent, making corruption a high-return, low-risk activity.”
I consider myself a pretty upstanding individual, and in principle I’d like to say I would never abuse my job for personal monetary gain. But if I’m staring at a briefcase containing ten times my annual salary, it doesn’t matter if the punishment for getting caught is the rape, torture and execution of me and my entire family. If I have a 97% chance of getting away with it, I’m going to have a hard time pushing away that briefcase.
That’s why public oversight and accountability are the only ways to counter human nature…and not the watered down illusions of oversight synonymous with government campaigns. You can make every official cover himself head-to-toe with anti-corruption pins and set up a hundred “external” supervision agencies hoping they’ll monitor themselves, but as long as they and their Party pals have the power to shut up the press and tell judges how to rule, corruption won’t ever go away.
The government realizes the graveness of the situation and they’ve admitted numerous times that corruption is the biggest threat to the CCP’s power and China’s sustainable growth. But at the same time they know allowing a free press and independent judiciary could open a whole other can of worms they’re not prepared to deal with.
If there were suddenly a free press to expose wrong-doing at every level and a judicial system that would impartially enforce laws on everyone, there’s no telling how many would fall in a country where corruption has been wired into the culture for decades, if not centuries.
The official rhetoric about it destabilizing the country does hold some water. You can’t blame them for wanting to avoid that…even if saving their own necks is their primary concern.
Impatience with corruption is rising fast though. With the widening wealth gap those who aren’t cashing in are getting more envious of those who are; which makes people even more inclined to abuse their job in order to catch up. This means the lowest strata of society will continue to get perpetually screwed over.
And when someone gets screwed over by losing their house to real estate developers or drinking poisonous water because their local Party boss has taken kick backs, these gimmick solutions might pacify them for about five minutes…until they realize that absolutely nothing has actually changed. Whether this ever reaches a nationwide tipping point is anyone’s guess though.
So in the long run it seems like the government might be damned if they do and damned if they don’t in separating themselves from the press and courts. I wish I had a good suggestion, but that’s just one fat dilly of a pickle. Maybe there really isn’t a more viable solution than lapel pins.