When Antony Leung Kam-chung resigned as Hong Kong’s financial secretary in 2003 following the “Lexusgate” scandal, it was said that many of his peers in mainland China were truly shocked. They found it hard to understand why a highly competent official should be forced to end his career in the government for such a “minor instance of impropriety”.
Leung quit following media exposé that he bought a HK$790,000 (US$101,930) Lexus sedan just a few weeks before he raised the tax on new vehicles in his March budget. Facing the possibility of an anti-corruption investigation and legal charges, he quit in July of that year.
His fate could have been much different on the mainland, where there is a de facto “revolving gate” that allows sacked cadres to resume their tenure or be appointed to new posts, sometimes within just a few weeks after their removal.
One well-known case is that of Meng Xuenong (孟學農), who was appointed Beijing mayor in January 2003 but was forced to quit three months after when the outbreak of SARS in the Chinese capital went out of control despite his earlier assurance that the city was safe from the deadly virus.
Meng’s removal was hailed by many observers as a sign of open and transparent governance under the leadership of the new party chief Hu Jintao, who took office in November 2002. Not too long after that, however, the public learned that Meng was appointed head of the State Council’s Office of the South-North Water Transfer Project, while retaining his ministerial rank.
In 2008 Meng was named governor of the resource-rich Shanxi province but was forced to step down again after eight months in office following a massive mudslide at an iron mine in the province’s Xiangfen county.
But even that accident, which claimed 277 lives, didn’t stop Meng from making yet another comeback. He was recalled to Beijing and soon became the deputy party secretary of the supervisory unit of offices and departments under the Communist Party Central Committee; his ministerial rank was still unchanged.
Meng is currently the director of the Social and Legal Affairs Subcommittee of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
In another example, senior officials including the party chief and mayor of Shijiazhuang, capital of the northern Hebei province, were all sacked at the height of the contaminated milk powder scandal involving Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu Group in 2008. Later, all of them assumed new senior posts at the Hebei provincial government.
Many of these officials, who were told to resign due to misconduct, scandals or accidents to appease the angry public, found themselves starting new tenures through the invisible “revolving gate”.
This has prompted the official mouthpiece People’s Daily to publish a commentary questioning the practice of appointing disgraced officials to new or even more senior positions.
The newspaper is not abandoning its pro-government stance. In the commentary, it says “cultivating a senior official may need more time and resources than the process of training a pilot”. It suggests that sacked officials be given more time before assigning them to new posts, allowing public anger to “cool off”. Once appointed to a new office, these officials should enjoy full support from the public.
Behind the scene, an official who resigns is actually doing a great favor to many of his comrades who may also be involved in the same scandal. And the reason he agrees to step down could be the promise of another government or party post in the near future.
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