Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017, 6:38 AM CST – China

Politics

Demotions

Leap Into The Unknown

A new method to punish corrupt officials, described in the media as “cliff-jumping demotion,” has increasingly found favor with anti-graft enforcers

For decades, Chinese officials found in violation of the law or the Party’s internal code of conduct were summarily dismissed from their posts, expelled from the Party or found themselves in court. Yet after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in 2012, some corrupt officials were permitted to retain their Party membership and continue to work in the government, albeit after an abrupt demotion, a phenomenon described in national media as “cliff-jumping.”

From the lowest-level clerical intern to Premier of the State Council, China’s cabinet, there are 15 ranks in the Chinese civil service. Some officials on the receiving end of “cliff-jumping” demotions were removed from vice governorships, which are in the fourth or fifth tier of government depending on the region, and relegated to clerical posts in the ninth to 14th tiers.

On January 29, 2016, the official website of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s anti-corruption agency, ran an announcement claiming that in 2015, 10 officials who had been named to top-level posts by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee – the body responsible for appointments of senior Party and government officials – received “punishment according to party discipline” and were “demoted severely.”

According to Chinese media, incomplete data indicate that about 15 officials appointed by the Organization Department have been demoted since the Party’s 18th National Congress. A growing preference for demotion over more severe and permanent punitive measures appears to be emerging. Whether the new trend will last remains unclear, but many anticipate a further formalization of the use of this new tool in the arsenal of the Party’s anti-graft watchdog.

The Fall

Among the 15 officials named by the CCDI were governor-level personnel and top Party personnel running State-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Zhang Yun, former president of the Agricultural Bank of China, and Zhu Fushou, former general manager of Dongfeng Motor Corporation, both of whom held Party posts equivalent to vice provincial governorships, were demoted to county level or below.

Zhao Zhiyong and Liu Lizu, both holding equally prestigious Party positions in Jiangxi Province, received the most stinging demotions – a seven-to-10 tier plunge that left them holding minor clerical posts.

Wei Hong, former governor of Sichuan Province, was the highest-ranking official named by the CCDI as having been demoted. His fall was somewhat less precipitous – he was named to a vice mayoral post – a drop of up to five tiers.

Some experienced even less dramatic changes in status, including Fu Xiaoguang, former vice-governor of Heilongjiang Province, and Liu Zhiyong, former vice chairman of Guangxi’s People’s Political Consultative Committee, both of whom were demoted to mayoral level. However, as the gulf between the two levels in terms of relative seniority is still huge, both demotions were also viewed as “cliff-jumping.”

Also, with the exception of Zhang Yun, all the demoted officials named by the CCDI were reportedly prohibited from taking “leadership” positions in their new jurisdictions.

“Officials without leadership enjoy the same pay and welfare treatment as their peers. Yet compared to their powerful past [appointments], they will no longer wield administrative power,” NewsChina was told by an anonymous source close to the issue. By all accounts, however, these officials also face a major change in terms of their remuneration and welfare.

According to official media, the average monthly salary of a governor-level Chinese official is over 10,000 yuan (US$1,537), falling on a sliding scale to a minimum 3,000 yuan (US$461) for a clerk.

As most of the officials named by the CCDI are already in their 50s or 60s – close to mandatory retirement age – their political futures seem bleak. As government pensions are tied to the rank of an official at the time they retire, as are allowances for housing, vehicle use, staffing costs and medical care, such a damning demotion at such a late stage in an official’s career is both humiliating and destabilizing.

“For a certain period of time, retired officials in postings at governor-level or above would still enjoy allowances for housekeepers and drivers. They would be given a separate room when hospitalized,” Su Hainan, vice chairman of the China Labor Association, told NewsChina. Other perks include large housing allowances, paid vacations, guaranteed business-class air travel and premium berths on trains. Such high-level officials also have clearance to read classified documents commensurate with their administrative rank, as well as maintain a private office and a secretary for a certain period of time after retirement. None of the officials named in the CCDI announcement can expect such luxuries once they retire.

Media reports indicate none of the men have actually assumed the responsibilities of their new posts. An official with the Jiangxi provincial Party committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NewsChina that Zhao Zhiyong hasn’t been seen since being named to his new position. “He’s going to retire soon,” the source told our reporter. “How embarrassing it would be for a formerly high-level official who violated Party discipline to return to work as a clerk.”

Yan Shiyuan, a vice governor-level official at Shandong Province, was demoted to a vice mayoral post. Another source, who declined to be named, told NewsChina that Yan “is basically living as a retiree.”

“It is said that he is not in a bad mood. He spends his time enjoying botany,” the source added.

Clearance

The accusations against the CCDI list of disgraced officials vary. Other than unspecified “serious violations of Party discipline,” most were found to have participated in illegal activity. Zhao Zhiyong was accused of leveraging his position to receive hefty kickbacks. Zhang Tianxin, a vice governor-level official in Yunnan Province, was accused of “negligence that caused the loss of State assets.” Zhang Yu was embroiled in a corruption scandal surrounding a fellow official, and was also accused of “indiscretions” in his private life. Wei Hong was accused of ”disloyalty and dishonesty,” and having failed to demonstrate sufficient remorse for his disciplinary violations.

Although demotion is enshrined in the Party’s internal code of laws as a legitimate punishment for wayward officials, it was rarely used prior to the 18th National Congress. In the past, when an official was dismissed in disgrace, provided they were not also expelled from the Party, their welfare and political status largely remained the same as their official rank remained unchanged. Analysts point out that the new punitive measure of “cliff-jumping” demotions is viewed as a safeguard preventing disgraced Party personnel from staging a comeback.

Zhuang Deshui, vice director of Peking University’s Center of Anti-Corruption Studies, said that demotion provides an alternative and more flexible solution to other punishments for disciplinary violations. It is harsher than a simple admonishment or the issuance of a formal demerit, but more “humane” than expulsion from the Party and the government.

However, Zhuang also believes that as a trend, ”cliff-jumping” needs to be placed in a regulatory framework and made subject to certain standards. The current legal basis for demotion as a punishment is found in China’s Civil Service Law and the CPC Work Regulations on Selecting and Appointing Leading Cadres. “Related standards and detailed regulation should be implemented,” said Zhuang. “There should be clear provisions for the number of levels violators can be demoted. Thus, the general public can understand the purpose of demotion, while those punished will be convinced [of its severity].”

Wang Yukai from the National School of Administration agrees. He told NewsChina that a quantified approach that matches demotions to offenders according to their rank and the severity of their violations – taking relative social impact and financial losses into consideration – would be “practical and clear.” It would prevent the “rule of man” – unaccountable, backroom decisions – from determining the severity of “cliff-jumping” demotions. 

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