Southern Weekly on how to deal with “naked officials”


Naked official Pang Jiayu in the happier days that existed before he was sentenced to 12 years for corruption (image source)

According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, around 4,000 corrupt officials fled the mainland between 1978 and 2003, taking more than $50 billion with them. Before doing so, many of these officials first sent their wives and children to live abroad. One can safely assume that this number has increased significantly over the past seven years.

The editorial board of Southern Weekly recently debated whether all “naked officials” – officials who have sent their family to live abroad – should be fired. The translation is posted below:

Should we fire him just because he’s a naked official?

by the Southern Weekly Editorial Board

On April 23rd, the Politburo of the Central Committee discussed strengthening supervision over “naked officials.” A “naked official” is an official whose wife and kids have left China to live in a foreign country, leaving only him behind to take care of things at home. “Naked officials” have attracted such attention because they’ve been involved in so many classic corruption cases and have become a model of corruption. Given this, should the country adopt a strict “one size fits all” policy against “naked officials”?

Those against: The “presumption of innocence” is the guiding principle of a society ruled by law. Without evidence or proof that a “naked official” used his power for personal gain, he is no different from a regular person, and is entitled to the same legal rights and benefits. If someone were fired just because he’s a “naked official,” it would be a classic violation of a citizen’s legal rights.

Those in favor: People who hold public office are limited in ways that ordinary citizens are not. For example, officials must regularly make public their personal finances, and sometimes even the finances of their family members. Moreover, officials’ public activities – and a few private ones – are not protected by the right to privacy. Officials are not ordinary people. If you hold public power you must give up some private rights.

Those against: It’s been 30 years since Reform and Opening Up and a long time since the era in which China was quick to investigate one’s overseas relations. In an era of globalization, international communication, and frequent migration, if an official’s family chooses to live outside the country, this should be considered a personal desire. If they think it’s more convenient and comfortable to live abroad, how can you use this to punish the innocent official who has remained behind?

Those in favor: The people know an official’s work will reflect his competence and patriotism, but experience repeatedly suggests that “naked officials” are almost always corrupt. Moreover, those corrupt “naked officials” that are actually inspected, frequently have to be corrupt to a certain degree before they have the ability to send their family members abroad. It’s better to first fire all of them, thereby avoiding the continued possibility of national disaster, than to wait until inspection and risk missing a few. This is necessary. If the Ministry of Supervision were brave enough, if it were able to prevent corruption from happening, the people wouldn’t have to do this.

Those against: It’s understandable that the people feel it’s better to kill a thousand innocents than to let one guilty person run free. However, Chinese history is filled with too mistakes of overcompensation. In fact, the government already understands that it needs to strengthen supervision over “naked officials,” and has launched a few measures to address the problem. The 2009 Shenzhen Regulation prevents “naked officials” from holding official positions in the Party and from becoming a member of important departments. Still, it’s too extreme to treat all “naked officials” the same and make them give up their positions. It’s not easy being an official and we should take care of them.

Those in favor: We should ask, besides the power that he holds in his hand, does China have anything that would make a “naked official” reluctant to leave? If no, then what good is it to the public to allow him to continue with this power? Can the public be truly at ease with power in the hands of these “naked officials?” If cadres are appointed in strict accordance with regulations – where superiors are responsible for their subordinates, and where the government is responsible to people’s representatives – under normal conditions, what superior, what representative of the people, would dare risk appointing a “naked official”?

Commentators say: Given a situation in which corruption is increasingly the target of the people’s hate, and in which the corruption of “naked officials” has become a flash point, from the perspective of being responsible to the people, no policy – no matter how extreme – could be overkill. In reality, the people mostly feel that our supervision system is too soft on officials. The true danger to our country is if this system is so soft that it makes the masses give up hope.

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