04/10/2009, 00.00
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Prime minister Wen promises severe measures against corruption - again

Wen pledges careful supervision to prevent dishonest officials from growing rich through the economic stimulus provided by the government. But Beijing appears unable to stop corruption, which often takes place openly. Bribes are even being deposited into bank accounts, and given in the form of million-yuan villas.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Prime minister Wen Jiabao reiterated yesterday in the pages of Xinhua that fighting widespread corruption is a priority for government, with "efforts to increase efficiency and transparency, step up power controls and supervision . . . and try to prevent the opportunity of increased public investment from being abused by departments, units and individuals." But experts and public opinion are very skeptical and critical about Beijing's ability to put an end to the phenomenon.

According to official data, 41,179 public officials were investigated for corruption in 2008. There is widespread fear that the highly touted stimulus of 4 trillion yuan, said to be essential to revive the struggling Chinese economy, is going to enrich dishonest officials. For this reason, Wen has reminded the local governments of the need for the highest transparency in the use of the funds, and has pledged that there will be tight supervision. He has also reiterated the commitment to cut unnecessary spending on meetings and conferences, and the freeze - in effect since the end of 2008 - on constructing new public buildings. Analysts observe that no current spending figures have been released, making it impossible to verify the announced cuts, while unofficial sources say that at least 600 billion yuan were spent on entertainment on business trips in 2006.

Public opinion has been demoralized by the constant corruption scandals, in spite of the fact that the government has proclaimed zero tolerance for years. Recently, Kang Huijun, the former deputy head of the government in the wealthy Shanghai financial district, has been sentenced to life in prison for corruption: among other things, he bought more than 20 apartments at prices much lower than those of the market, and resold them at an immense profit.

Now the Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Committee has ordered about 2,000 high-level officials and managers of public projects in Shanghai to disclose any property they own, including that of their family. But many people comment that it is well known that city officials benefit from such favorable prices, and are waiting to see if the government will take any measures on property holdings.

Corruption is so widespread that Chinese television has broadcast a documentary on Zhou Liangluo, former head of the CP in the district of Haidian in Beijing, who in 2008 was sentenced to death (but with a suspended sentence) for having appropriated more than 16 million yuan. The documentary reveals that the bribes were paid in a very open and easily disclosed way: one builder, who was given preference in the construction of a luxury hotel, deposited 400,000 yuan (40,000 euros) into Zhou's bank account every day for three weeks in 2003. Another company even gave him a villa valued at 2 million yuan, after being chosen to construct a commercial building in 2005.

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