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Instant Report Regulation

Watching the Watchmen

An instant reporting system targeting police officers in Zhejiang Province has been introduced to monitor their off-duty activities as a way to detect corruption

By NewsChina Updated Aug.1

In late April 2017, Han Fengping, deputy director of the “discipline inspection group” at the department of public security of Zhejiang Province, received a phone call from a chief discipline inspector at the Provincial People’s Congress, asking for details of the “instant report” regulations enacted by Zhejiang’s public security department. “The instant report system is quite creative. Could you please send me the details?” asked the inspector. 

The “discipline inspection” department is the internal watchdog for Chinese governance, monitoring Party members and government officials for malfeasant behavior. Under the instant report system, police officers above the level of deputy department director must promptly deliver a hard-copy report to the discipline inspection department whenever they deal with a range of private and public affairs. The system, introduced in Zhejiang at the end of 2015, means they must swiftly report on weddings, funerals, trips overseas, real estate transactions, part-time jobs and their role in any social organizations – and covers their close friends and relatives as well. It’s intended to let discipline inspectors ferret out even a hint of corruption. 

Han Fengping told NewsChina that since it was put into practice, the instant report regulation has proved to be an effective way to monitor the code of conduct and any major changes of employees within Zhejiang’s public security department. “It has become the norm for over 3,000 police officers, including the head of the department,” he said. 

Instant Inspection

Several interviewees from the department of public security in Zhejiang told our reporter that the instant report regulation was an important addition to the existing system of reporting on the private affairs of high-ranking officials and police officers, which had been in effect for 22 years. Han said the old report system demanded only an annual report, and the inspectors tended only looked at it when it came time to determine whether an official should be promoted or not, making it hard to keep abreast of more recent issues. “Some leaders didn’t tackle the annual report in detail or attentively. And because so much time went by between reports, it was hard to verify the information,” Han said. “The process opened up serious loopholes in the management of senior officials and thus motivated us to introduce the instant report system.” 
Zhang Gang, director of the discipline inspection group at the department of public security of Zhejiang Province, was involved in the drafting of the instant report regulation from the very beginning. Shortly after he started to work for the department of public security of Zhejiang Province in July 2015, he drafted the regulation and, after thorough research and multiple rounds of discussions at some departments, put it into practice. 

Han told our reporter that since it was introduced, the discipline inspection group had received plenty of phone inquiries about how to write the reports. Questions included issues like whether it is necessary to inform the discipline inspection authorities when somebody buys a car or van, or how many people are allowed to be invited to a wedding. Private cars and overly luxurious weddings have become signs of potential corruption ever since China’s current anti-corruption drive started under President Xi Jinping in 2012. 

When the son of a senior official at the public security department got married in late 2016, he delivered a report to the discipline inspection group seven days beforehand with details of the wedding location, time, number of tables and cost. “The instant report regulations didn’t have detailed requirements on the scale and price of the banquet, but we have strengthened our awareness of these issues and only invited a few colleagues from Zhejiang public security department,” he told NewsChina on condition of anonymity. 

Shen Huimin, discipline inspection director at Zhejiang Police College, submitted five instant reports in 2016, including details of an overseas trip by his wife and daughter as well as the purchase of a vehicle that cost 90,000 yuan (US$13,000) by his wife.  

On March 28, 2017, Shen was elected member of an “anti-heresy association” in Hangzhou, and he gave a detailed explanation in the report. He told our reporter that according to the instant report requirements, if an official begins to work part-time at a social organization, a report has to be presented within seven days of the appointment. 

In 2016, the public security department of Zhejiang received a total of 178 instant reports from officials above the department director level and the majority of items were related to overseas trips and real estate transactions. So far, at least 16 police officers at the department failed to get a promotion because of inaccurate information in their instant reports. Shortly after the report was introduced, it was expanded to cover all staff at the department and thousands of reports have now been made. 

Challenges Ahead 

Shen Huimin told NewsChina that since the instant report regulation was implemented, officials at different levels in his college are more willing and ready to engage with it. He said that when bidding processes for projects were opened at his college previously, staff from the discipline inspection group would participate but they were not likely to be informed of all the details before and after the bidding. Nowadays, however, he said it is a dereliction of duty and a violation of the regulations if a report is not provided in time. 

He argued that what is more important is the follow-up work after a report is presented, adding that the discipline inspection group will intervene when a report is not written carefully or there are some conflicts among police officers. He said that some employees at Zhejiang Police College were in low moods after lawsuits or divorces, which affected their morale at work and was visible in the reports. After reading the instant reports, he said, the college will intervene, providing timely help. 

Zhao Peng, head of the Clean Governance Office of the public security department of Zhejiang Province, told our reporter that there are some ways that the instant report regulations can be improved and more detailed requirements introduced. He emphasized that housing purchases should require giving more detailed information. “An applicant needs to fill in more information including the location of the apartment, the size, price, the sources of funds and whether a loan is involved,” he said. 

Zhao said that the instant report regulations will be expanded to local police officers when they handle a case, requiring them to inform discipline inspectors when a senior official asks for a favor or intervenes in the case. 

Shen Huimin told our reporter that at his college, after-hours social activities are included in the report scheme at some departments, including who pays for a dinner, who has participated and whether “improper” entertainment activities were provided – a reference to strippers or other sex workers. “It will play an important role in managing the off-work activities of employees,” he said. 

In addition to the hard-copy report, all the details will be cataloged digitally for later checkup and statistical analysis and all the reports are strictly confidential, only accessible to discipline inspection staff. All the reports will eventually be added to the personal files of officials.  

In the opinion of Yang Jianhua, director of the Sociological Association of Zhejiang Province, confidentiality and transparency must be strictly separated for the instant reports. Yang said if the process is not strictly confidential, applicants will have legitimate concerns.  

“If the content of the report affects the handling of a case or it is a totally private matter, there is no need to make it public. If the publication of some content contributes to monitoring public powers, it is necessary to do so. Meanwhile, the scope of content targeting senior officials should be wider than lower-level officials,” he said. 

Yang added that even though the instant report regulations were implemented little more than a year ago, they have already yielded important results and are socially significant. If the trial proves successful in the long term, he suggested, it should be implemented on a wider scale, and eventually perhaps nationwide.  

“But public security has its own ways of doing things, and we have to see whether it makes sense to try it on a wider scale with all Zhejiang government offices first, or to promote it among the entire public security system across the country,” he said.