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China’s anti-graft campaign has lessons for SA

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012, 1.5 million government bureaucrats have been punished and more than 900 000 members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have been expelled, says the writer. Picture: Reuters

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012, 1.5 million government bureaucrats have been punished and more than 900 000 members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have been expelled, says the writer. Picture: Reuters

Published Jan 25, 2022

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By Paul Tembe

There is much to admire and learn from the unparalleled potency of China’s anti-corruption campaign. It is unequalled by any country in numbers and speed.

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Since Chinese President Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012, 1.5 million government bureaucrats have been punished and more than 900 000 members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have been expelled.

What informs this effective anti-graft campaign led by the CPC’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)? On January 18 this year, President Xi was unequivocal in maintaining executive political resolve to “take out tigers”, “swat flies” and “hunt down foxes” legally found to be involved in acts of malfeasance and corruption.

This resolve stems from a simple realisation. As he said in 2014 to justify this campaign: “People hate corruption the most, so we must be determined to fight against corruption to win support from the people.” The inference here is obvious.

Failure to fight corruption has the effect of delegitimising the people’s support for those entrusted, in public and private sectors, with protecting public resources. Success in dealing decisively with the corrupt contributes to generating public confidence in elected leaders.

In meting out appropriate punishment for the corrupt, the CPC has not been shy in varying sentences from harsh to harshest so that the message is driven home to realise “the strategic goal of not daring to, not being able to and not wanting to be corrupt”.

This uncompromising stance is underlined in China since corruption robs institutions of resources that could be better used to deliver common goods.

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Corruption can be likened to a malign pandemic, present around the globe, that stifles economic growth, exacerbates inequality and hampers the pursuit of social justice. This explains why China was the first country to sign and formalise the Charter of the UN Convention Against Corruption.

This convention is a game changer in promoting international co-operation on, for example, asset recovery by implicated individuals and families mentioned in the Zondo Commission inquiry into state capture.

While China prioritises actions first and rhetoric second in its anti-graft campaign, there is similarly existential urgency for law enforcement authorities in South Africa to act and deliver on prosecuting and imprisoning those proven to be corrupt.

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The very survival of the democratic project hinges on this to avoid the country descending into anarchy, lawlessness and becoming a failed state.

Xi has made fighting corruption his legacy focus, and this is why the CCDI has been adequately resourced with a zero-tolerance attitude.

In fact, the anti-corruption campaign was the first thing to be emphasised, continuously so, in the reform and opening up period. As Zhao Leji says, this was achieved through a “centralised, unified, authoritative and efficient oversight system with complete coverage”. In the process, they have “combined law-based punishment, institutional checks, and education to make (their) anti-corruption governance more effective”.

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This comprehensive anti-graft project includes the private sector, such as the property and technology sectors, which have failed to emphasise prudent fiscal policies, actions and behaviour. It is to be remembered that China’s financial system is estimated to be worth $54 trillion.

Hence, since October 2021 about 24 officials and regulators faced the full might of the Chinese law. Again, this uncompromising zero tolerance is based on the logic that corruption robs people of their bottom-line livelihoods. Lessons for South Africa are patent.

First, executive leadership should be seen to punish the corrupt decisively without fear or favour so that the investment in the Zondo Commission can have a meaningful return. Second, state institutions in charge of law enforcement should be adequately resourced, like the defunct Scorpions.

Third, public patience for acts of corruption is not unlimited. Fourth, political parties should not be shy of expelling immediately those found by the courts to be guilty of corruption.

* Professor Tembe is a sinologist and founder of Sele Encounters.

** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.

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