The warning came in August, when the anti-corruption watchdog agency in China’s Hunan Province asked local public officials to voluntarily give up their illegal business dealings. They had until Sept. 30 to come clean and cease their involvement.
Apparently, they didn’t heed the warning. On Dec. 6, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the central anti-corruption authorities, announced that 13 public officials have received either a warning or punishment, in violation of Hunan’s public official guidelines that forbid public officials, their spouses, and children from involvement in six different sectors, including mining, sand and gravel, fishing, hydropower, firecrackers, and dangerous chemicals.
The rule was made to discourage nepotism. Retired officials and those who have quit their public posts need to wait three years before they can be involved in businesses in these sectors.
Deng Jianming, an inspection team leader for the Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Resources Bureau in Kaifa District in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, teamed up with family members and spent 1.2 million yuan ($181,404) to buy a transport ship. They operated the ship to carry sand and gravel for companies. Using his government position, he pocketed a huge sum of money when he sold the sand and gravel materials at a price higher than the market rate, according to the CCDI. Deng was given a severe warning in October.
Deng’s colleagues also profited in the sand and gravel sector. Ouyang Yinong, who worked at the Highway Management Bureau in Heshan District located in neighboring Yiyang City, and He Genghui, who worked in the Heshan Highway Bureau, each spent 200,000 yuan ($30,234) to buy shares at a local gravel yard. They each had gained a profit of 100,000 yuan ($15,117) by the end of 2016. In August, they both were stripped of their party membership and sent to the judicial system for prosecution.
Jiang Yimin, a staff member working at the cultural tourism service center in Taojinping Village in Xupu County, Hunan, received a Party record of demerit in November when he was found to have invested a total of 1.75 million yuan ($264,495) at a stone quarry run by his friend.
In Simen County, Hunan, ten public officials, including Tan Xijun, who worked in the water bureau in the Simen County government, and Hou Manli, a member of a political advisory body in Hunan known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), purchased shares in a hydropower company in Simen. In November, both Tan and Hou received Party warnings for discipline.
These officials are considered “flies,” Party jargon for low-ranking Party officials, as opposed to the more powerful high-ranking officials, known as “tigers.” The widespread corruption in Hunan illustrates how Party officials often mix business, work, and personal relationships and use their power to benefit themselves.
This kind of corruption is especially prevalent in state-owned sectors like mining, banking, telecommunications, and oil. The current anti-corruption campaign, which started in 2012 when Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power, has cleaned up many “tigers and flies” in these party-controlled sectors.
While the sacking of “tigers” often grabs the headlines, the number of “flies” that have been purged is staggering. According to statistics released by CCDI in October, over 1.34 million party officials with a township-level or lower position have received Party punishment as of June 2017, among them about 640,000 held a village-level position or lower (village is lower ranked than township).
A quote on the CCP’s main website sums up the corruption endemic at the lowest levels of the Party. The website says there is a common saying among some Chinese officials: “You fight your way to become a village chief. You drink your way up to a town chief. And you bribe your way to be a county chief,” according to the CCP’s main official website.
The CCP’s website explained that some village chiefs were the heads of local gangs, who bossed around local citizens while the chief’s family controlled everything in the village. Ma Demai, the former party secretary in Suihua City in Heilongjiang Province was listed as an example. He was sentenced to death with reprieve in 2005 for selling government positions for money, totaling 6.03 million yuan (about $911,374).