24 August 2019
Wang Qishan, China's anti-corruption chief, has his work cut out for him. Photo: Bloomberg
Wang Qishan, China's anti-corruption chief, has his work cut out for him. Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese officials sell govt posts for millions

One evening, a man arrived at the home of Zhang Xiaodong, the Communist Party chief of Anyang in Henan province, with a heavy suitcase.

He took out one million yuan (US$163,000) in cash, handed it to Zhang and went home.

“Return this illegal money,” Zhang’s wife told him — but Zhang refused.

During his 11 years in office from 2002 to 2013, Zhang received a total of 21.23 million yuan and US$10,000 from selling positions in the government.

This was revealed on November 14 on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s top anti-corruption body, headed by Wang Qishan.

Since the 18th party congress in November 2012, investigators have reportedly gone to 31 provinces, cities and regions and found serious buying and selling of posts in five of them.

Zhang’s case was one of the most outrageous.

Born in Henan in 1963, he spent his entire professional career in the province, rising through the Communist Youth League and becoming party chief of Anyang in April 2012. Anyang is an industrial city of 5.1 million in the north of Henan.

The party chief is the most senior official in a mainland city. Zhang had an intimate knowledge of those who worked below him from his decades in Henan. His modus operandi was to invite people to buy posts.

The highest price was two million yuan, with eight others paying over one million yuan and 20 others over 200,000 yuan.

Zhang received the money from 33 people. He promoted 31 of them and arranged transfers for the other two.

One paid 150,000 yuan to become director of the payment division of the city’s treasury. Over the next three years, he made two more payments totalling 150,000 yuan and received in return the post of party chief of the city’s finance bureau.

To avoid detection, Zhang deposited only 200,000 yuan of his money in the bank.

The rest he entrusted to his driver, friends and even those who had paid it to him. There were no receipts and no requirement to pay interest.

He knew that, since he was the most powerful man in Anyang, no one would dare to spend the money for themselves.

All the donors paid in cash, at Zhang’s home or office, in envelopes, the brown document files used by government officials or in leather briefcases.

The source of the money was family savings, loans from friends and family or bribes the donors had received in their work.

These payments were an investment more than a gift. The officials who paid Zhang believed that they could earn the money back and more in bribes and payments when they were in the new, higher positions.

As one official put it: “After you enter the government, it is like riding on the back of a tiger. You can only go up, you cannot go down.

“When others are promoted and you are not, they look down on you. Only through promotion can you obtain more benefits.”

Another shocking case the CCDI revealed was that of Nie Chunyu, former party chief of Shanxi province.

Nie worked in the coal-rich province for 19 years, eight of them in Luliang. It coincided with a boom in the coal industry, with prices rising.

Government positions were especially lucrative, because owners and managers of coal mines were eager to bribe officials to secure rights to dig and market the commodity.

These coal bosses gave or lent money to officials to buy promotions; in return, they received favours from the officials in their new posts.

The post of county chief or party secretary cost several million yuan.

“There was no difference between business and the government,” a report in the official media commented.

“When an official needed money, the bosses were happy to provide it. When they faced a problem, the official would fix it.”

All this makes dismal reading for Wang and his colleagues who want to use the law to improve the honesty and efficiency of the government.

The practice of buying posts has been widespread for years. A report in the official media in July 2006 said eight party officials had been sentenced for their involvement.

The former deputy chief of a prefecture in Sichuan province got 13 years’ jail for earning more than two million yuan from selling posts between 1994 and 2004.

In its report on the practice, the Southern Metropolitan News summarised it with this headline: “The rules of buying positions – a fixed price and no delivery without payment of money.”

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Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker

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