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Anti-graft Reform

Keeping Watch

China plans to establish a single over-arching branch of government to investigate and curb corruption at all levels

By NewsChina Updated Mar.1

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection will be a major part of the national supervision system / Photo by CFP

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) recently released a document on its official website, announcing that the central leadership has decided to conduct a pilot program in Beijing, Shanxi and Zhejiang Provinces as part of a “major political reform” aimed to establish a “national supervision system.” It is reported that the reform will eventually lead to the establishment of a separate “supervisory branch” of the Chinese government.  

The reform is widely considered as a major attempt to deliver the central leadership’s keynote pledge to institutionalize anti-corruption mechanisms, which has been a signature policy agenda since President Xi Jinping assumed power four years ago. In order to gain more insight into the purpose and direction of the reforms, which are expected to unfold over the next couple of years, NewsChina interviewed Ma Huaide, vice-president of China University of Political Science and Law. Ma is a long-time adviser to the State Council, China’s cabinet, and is known as one of the architects of this fundamental institutional reform. 
NC: What does the central leadership aim to achieve with this reform?  
MH: The ultimate goal of the reform is to establish a systematic national supervision system. Upon the completion of the pilot programs, a supervision committee will be established at the national level. Local branches of the committee will be established at the provincial and county levels, which together will make up an institutional and systematic supervision system. But so far, the official name of the proposed new national agency has not yet been decided. It could be called the Central Supervision Committee or Commission or National Supervision Committee or Commission. The specific name of the agency will be decided later.  
NC: Why have the pilot programs been launched in Beijing, Shanxi and Zhejiang? How long will the pilot program last before the national committee is established? 

MH: The locations of pilot programs are based on a number of considerations. Firstly, as the leadership considers the establishment of a national inspection system a major political reform, making Beijing, the country’s capital and political center, among the first to set up this kind of commission can deliver a strong message about the leadership’s determination to push forward reform. Moreover, by launching a pilot program in Beijing, the central leadership can be more directly informed of the empirical impact and experiences of the pilot scheme and future reforms.  

Shanxi Province was selected mostly because of the exposure of massive corruption in local officialdom, especially related to the province’s mineral riches. In the past couple of years, some localities in the province have seen their entire local leadership come under investigation and fall. Given the vast scope of corruption revealed in the past few years, running a pilot scheme in the province could yield valuable lessons for the national plan. 

Finally, Zhejiang Province was selected for its economic prosperity and the presence of a vibrant private sector. Thanks to the pilot program in Zhejiang, the central leadership will have a better idea about how the reforms should accommodate the political, economic and business environment of China’s prosperous eastern coastal region. But so far, there is no timetable for the pilot program or the formal launch of the reform. I think it will be one or two years before the program yields significant results.  
NC: What will be the relationship between the proposed national supervision committee and the current CCDI? Will the new committee be a Party organ or a government agency?  

MH: The CCDI, which is a Party organ, only has the authority to supervise Party members. By comparison, the proposed National Supervision Committee will be responsible for all public authorities and all those that are financed through the state budget, including judicial agencies, public hospitals and public schools. But according to the document released by the CCDI, the CCDI and the proposed national supervision committee will “combine offices.” It means that the two agencies will share the same offices and staff, but each agency will focus on different areas.  

In essence, the reform will create a new “supervision branch” out of China’s existing governing structure. The new supervision committee will not be made subject to the administrative branch of the government, the State Council, nor will it be subject to the judicial branch, the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Instead, the national supervision committee, with its local branches will be independent from the administrative and judicial branches of the government and be parallel with them in terms of legal status.  
NC: Some suggested that the proposed national supervision body will be similar to Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which was founded in 1974 following a series of scandals. Is it so?  

MH: To some extent, yes. Hong Kong’s ICAC adopts an integrated approach to anti-corruption efforts, and has authority over almost all issues related to fighting corruption. It is not only responsible for building anti-corruption awareness and preventing corruption, it also has the power to investigate corruption-related cases and even has a certain power to prosecute cases directly.  

Similarly, the proposed national supervision committee will also take an integrated approach by incorporating all existing functions of the anti-corruption authorities in order to create an integrated super-supervision agency. At the national level, the committee will integrate the staff and resources of the Ministry of Inspection, the National Audit Office, the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention under the State Council and anti-corruption agencies under the Supreme People’s Procuratorate to establish a separate supervision branch.  

Of course, the difference between Hong Kong’s ICAC and the proposed national supervision committee is also obvious. The ICAC only covers one city, while the national supervision committee will cover the entire country and thus need a more complex institutional structure.  
NC: As the new supervision body will be very powerful, how will the committee itself be held accountable? 

MH: From a legal perspective, the proposed national supervision committee will report to the National People’s Congress, and thus will be subject to the supervision of the NPC, which will be authorized to appoint members to the supervision committee. At the provincial and local level, local supervision committees will be subject to the authority of the local NPC branches.  

In the meantime, the supervision committee will be subject to the supervision of the Party. At the national level, the national supervision committee will fall under the direct leadership of the Politburo. At the provincial and county levels, the supervision committee will be supervised by local Party commissions.  

Moreover, the supervision committee will establish an internal supervision office, which may be similar to that of the CCDI. Since the central leadership launched the anti-corruption campaign in 2013, the CCDI has established an internal office to supervise cadres within the CCDI itself. So far, at least eight CCDI officials have been investigated for violations of discipline. Like all other public agencies, the supervision committee will also be subject to the supervision of the media and the general public.  
NC: As a major architect of the reform, why do you think it will be effective in fighting corruption?  

MH: The existence of corruption stems from abuses of power. As President Xi has said, the solution is to “put power in a cage.” In doing so, we need a robust supervision system. Unfortunately, China’s current institutional arrangement lacks such a super-structure. Not only do existing supervision agencies lack the necessary power to tackle existing corruption, there has been an absence of adequate legislative guidance on supervision.  

Since the central leadership launched the ongoing anti-graft campaign, the CCDI has stepped up its role in fighting corruption. But from the legal perspective, the CCDI can only deal with the corruption of Party members, and we have still been missing a systematic institutional and legislative arrangement that governs the operation of the overall supervision of all public authorities.  

The establishment of a more powerful and more systematic supervision branch, aided by legislation, for example, the proposed amendment over the Administrative Supervision Law, will solve this problem. If the reform can be successfully launched, it would be a major step toward the establishment of rule of law as pledged by the leadership.