Posts Tagged ‘accountable government’

Loud thunder, little rain: China’s new leaders target corruption

by Kenneth Chern

China’s new leaders are aware of the danger that corruption poses to the nation’s social stability and economic development.

But entrenched corruption at the local and national levels, including among the families and friends of those very leaders, will make it difficult for them to break the link between money and power that frustrates the masses but sustains the power of a Communist Party that long ago abandoned political belief for economic gain.

A 2007 report of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by Minxin Pei called the level of Chinese corruption “astonishing,” noting that it cost $US86 billion a year, more than China’s annual education budget. Things have not gotten any better. The Bo Xilai affair – Bo’s wiretapping of other top Chinese leaders, his son’s privileged lifestyle abroad, and his wife’s murder conviction — was but the most lurid case of rampant corruption that has shaken the trust of the Chinese people in their government.

Other high-profile cases have left the public seething: the melamine-laced milk that poisoned hundreds of infants; the Wenchuan earthquake that toppled “tofu schoolhouses” onto pupils while government buildings stood firm; the bullet train crash in Wenzhou that disgraced railway czar Liu Zhijun; and the sale by Wukan officials of prized farmland to real estate developers that triggered villager demonstrations and violence.

In his speech to the 18th Party Congress last week, outgoing President Hu Jintao stressed the need to fight corruption, warning that if the issue is not addressed, “it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.” Significantly, he warned leading officials to “strengthen education and discipline over their family and staff.” Along the same lines, incoming Party general secretary Xi Jinping in 2004 instructed, “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.”

But Chinese leaders have made similar warnings for years without making serious headway. That’s because of what Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution terms the “marriage of wealth and political power” which supports an economic strategy based on rewards to local officials for “producing rapid GDP growth while keeping a lid on social unrest.” Put another way, the breakneck speed of Chinese economic development provides wealth that is distributed as patronage and provides support for the Party’s continued political monopoly. And campaigns against corruption evoke the Chinese proverb, “Loud thunder, little rain.”

More specifically, Minxin Pei cites two characteristics of corruption — the corruption of local state institutions through the purchase and sale of government appointments, and “collusion among local ruling elites” or “groups of local officials who cooperate and protect each other.” These practices drain the economy and feed public cynicism but they nurture the political and economic ambitions of entrepreneurs and government officials who thrive in a poorly defined regulatory and policy environment.

This is the social context in which Chinese leaders and their families operate, which is why the calls of Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping for discipline of families and staff is so interesting. Politicians, their relatives, staff, and friends use their political clout to build businesses and line their pockets. The average wealth of the richest 70 members of the National People’s Congress in 2011 was over US$1 billion. China’s central bank reportedly has evidence that up to 18,000 officials and employees of state-owned firms have fled China since the mid-1990s, taking $127 billion with them.

And recent reports have shown how relatives of top Chinese officials have grown wealthy. Xi himself reportedly has sisters and brothers-in-law with “huge interests in China’s real estate, minerals and telecommunications sectors.” And the family of Premier Wen Jiabao, perhaps the strongest reform advocate of all China’s top leaders, has been reported by the New York Times to have US$2.7 billion in wealth.

The reality is that Chinese leaders, even those who call for (and may sincerely believe in) reform and a crackdown on corruption, find themselves in a social web of political influence and enrichment that sustains the status quo. That reality will make it just as hard for the new leaders as it was for their predecessors to make a serious tilt at corruption.

Corruption and influence peddling are as old as the Chinese nation, and as old as human history. What is new is the demand of poor farmers, workers, and China’s growing middle class for a level playing field and a fairer chance for opportunity. Growing social tensions and environmental stresses make the current system unsustainable for the long term.

How Ji Xinping and the new Politburo meet that test will determine history’s verdict on whether they are authentic leaders with the courage to take the needed steps for the common good of the Chinese people and the welfare of the Chinese nation.

Kenneth Chern is Professor of Asian Policy at the Swinburne University of Technology and Executive Director of the Swinburne Leadership Institute.

This article was first published at www.theconversation.edu.au

 

Media, unions and political parties seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions

by Sunanda Creagh

The media, trade unions and political parties are seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions but fewer than 1% of people have had recent direct experience of graft, a new poll shows.

The survey, titled Perceptions of corruption and ethical conduct and produced by the Australian National University’s Research School of Social Sciences, surveyed 2020 people aged 18 years and over by phone between August and September this year, with a response rate of 43%. The results were adjusted to represent the national population.

“Satisfaction with democracy in Australia remains high by international standards, although it is lower in 2012 than at any time since 1998,” the study said, with most concerns related to the quality of government.

“There is a widespread perception that corruption in Australia has increased, with 43% taking this view and 41% seeing corruption as having remained the same,” the report said.

The police and armed forces were seen as most trustworthy while the media, trade unions and political parties were seen as most corrupt.

“The media one is interesting because it confirms a finding across 25 EU countries earlier this year about the pillars of integrity in our community – the media again came down near the bottom,” said study author, Professor Adam Graycar.

“We’ve seen a number of media stories recently globally — the Murdoch scandal in the UK. There have been issues with talk back radio and the cash for comment allegations. This poll was done before the latest talk back controversy. But it’s a global phenomenon and the implications are important because of the very important role the media has in transparency,” he said.

While less than 1% of respondents said they or a relative had experienced corruption directly, “where corruption exists, it does have a serious and deleterious effect on government, on the delivery of our services and infrastructure,” said Prof Graycar.

While political parties were seen as corrupt, more than half of respondents see ‘almost none’ or ‘a few’ federal politicians as being corrupt and public scepticism of politicians’ motives has been stable since the 1990s, the study said.

Professor Mark Findlay, Deputy Director of the University of Sydney’s Institute of Criminology, said public perceptions on crime “often have very little to do either with personal experience or factual knowledge.”

“It is particularly interesting that police corruption is no longer viewed in the serious end (when, in fact, instances of such corruption, particularly in some states such as Victoria, see no sign of abating),” he said.

“This may be explained by things as tangential as new series of ‘Underbelly’ in this viewing season, or in more concrete variables such as a desire to believe in our institutions of public security in a political climate of border protection and prevailing concerns about local and national security.”

The loss of confidence in politicians and trade unions is troubling but consistent with a worldwide disillusionment with conventional institutions of representative governance,“ Prof Findlay said.

“What is more troubling is the belief in media corruption when, in other circumstances, the media is relied upon to expose public sector corruption. Maybe all this could be put down to the recent political scandals and degenerating level of political debate, and the biased and irresponsible role of individual media personalities in fuelling this state of affairs.”

Overall, respondents were mostly satisfied with the direction Australia is headed in, with the economy, immigration and employment topping respondents list of most important issues and concern for the environment on the wane.

Respondents were only asked about perceptions of corruption in public institutions, not private businesses or corporations.

Darren Palmer, Associate Professor in Criminology at Deakin University said the poll showed anti-corruption agencies needed to boost their profile.

“One of the most interesting and also somewhat surprising results is that almost half of the respondents indicate they would report suspected corruption to police. This flies in the face of the major restructure of mechanisms for dealing with corruption, whereby all jurisdictions have invested heavily in various anti-corruption agencies, including those dealing with allegations or suspicion of police corruption,” he said.

“More needs to be done by these agencies to enhance public awareness and access to their complaints processes.”

Sunanda Creagh is the Editor of  The Conversation.   Additional reporting by Bella Counihan.

This article was first published by The Conversation at www.theconversation.edu.au

 

Censoring public health in Queensland – a dangerous precedent?

Beyond the recent publicity around cuts to health and other portfolios, something deeply disturbing – even sinister – is occurring in Queensland.

The state government is implementing health policies on the run and cutting health jobs and services. This has happened before around the country and will eventually be turned around, albeit not before a deal of harm has been done.

Even this week, there is news of yet more cuts to prevention programs. But more disturbing still, and a move that should send alarm bells ringing around the country, is the Queensland government’s decision to gag health organisations, health professionals and public debate on health issues.

A number of of Queensland Health’s recent problems – from Bundaberg to payroll disasters – followed historical underfunding of key control processes, and came to light in part because concerned people had the courage to speak out.

There is a long history in public health of measures that were initially resisted or opposed, speedily becoming accepted as part of a modern, civilised society. We would not be one of the world’s longest-lived populations without advances in public health such as sanitation and safe water, safe food, safe environments, immunisation, control of infectious diseases, screening, speed limits, seat belts, random breath testing, and tobacco control.

Each of these advances met initial resistance. None of them – not a single one of the public health advances we now regard as vital – would have been implemented without public health advocacy.

A troubled history

There is nothing new about opposition to public health advocacy. When sanitary reforms were being debated in England in the 1850s, led by the pioneering epidemiologist John Snow, the London Times thundered, “We prefer to take our chances of cholera and the rest than be bullied into health by Mr. Snow”.

But Snow persevered, achieving changes that led the way to advances there and elsewhere. Since then, we have seen a plethora of public health advances because of pressure from health groups, whether professional organisations such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA), or issue-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the various cancer councils and the Heart Foundation.

These external pressures are often encouraged by health ministers who need help generating support for action in Cabinet and the community: after legislation or other action, they frequently express their appreciation to the organisations concerned.

It is reasonable and normal for governments to expect that public servants follow conventional protocols in relation to public comment. It is also reasonable to expect that NGOs engaged in advocacy do so in a sensible and civilised manner. It is, however, unreasonable and dangerous for governments to gag health NGOs, and to take action that will specifically preclude them from advocating for change.

Gagging order

Health departments traditionally fund large numbers of NGOs to carry out crucial work in the community. Queensland Health Department contracts with these NGOs will now be subject to censorship. Any NGO receiving 50% or more of its funding from the state will be precluded from advocating for state or federal legislative change – even from providing website links to other organisations’ websites that do so.

NGOs justifiably fear that the 50% figure is just a starting point, and that this censorship may ultimately apply to any funding. Many now dare not speak out. Even those not currently in receipt of funding but thinking of applying will feel constrained.

The condition relating to websites means that funded NGOs may not be able to provide links to organisations such as Cancer Council Australia, the Heart Foundation, or even the AMA and the World Health Organization, all of which advocate for legislative change.

Government-funded NGOs are often also funders of research, which may conclude that legislation or regulation is appropriate. The new Queensland Health approach will preclude reputable health organisations from even discussing the implications of such research.

An important 2007 paper showed that there was already cause for concern about suppression of information in the health sector. It noted international precedents where exposure and comment from outside government were crucial in preventing further public health catastrophes, such as the 1980 Black Report in the United Kingdom, the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union, the SARS outbreak in China, and harmful mercury blood levels in the United States.

But why?

So what justification has the Queensland Government offered for its descent into the dark ages?

First, they assert that NGOs should focus on their “core activities”, not advocacy. But seeking action that will protect the health of the community is the most fundamental core activity for public health organisations. Even if they cannot understand this, it is outrageous that a government providing only some of an organisation’s funding should prohibit action carried out with funding from other sources.

Second, they state in relation to funded groups that “we would expect that organisation to conduct itself with the political impartiality of any other government sector.” This verges on the bizarre, given that by definition NGOs are not part of the “government sector”.

A third rationale now offered is that this condition will prevent abuses, such as the “Fake Tahitian Prince” scandal, and funding of NGOs to pursue political agendas. But any concerns in these areas should be addressed by protocols common to all governments (and indeed other funding agencies) about proper, well-monitored use of funds.

The fourth rationale is that the government is seeking “health outcomes, not political outcomes or social engineering outcomes”. The government is entitled to seek health outcomes from activities that it funds: but that is no justification for gagging the non-government sector.

It is desperately depressing that any health minister should use pejorative phrases such as “social engineering” to describe the aims of health organisations, and, by implication, the aims of his own and other health departments around the country.

The Queensland government’s approach has already met with some success. It has created a climate of fear. Beyond the AMA, whose Queensland president, Dr. Alex Markwell, has shown herself to be a true health leader, and some courageous public health academics, few in the state are willing to speak out, lest they be victimised and lose their funding.

These are dark days for public health in Queensland. The public health advocacy that has made our community so healthy will be hard to find. By contrast, commercial interests – in areas such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, junk food, even firearms – are free to pressure governments at will.

Queensland, of all states, should have learned that gagging people in health from speaking out is a recipe for disaster. Censorship is the hallmark of a totalitarian regime; censorship in health sends out the signal loud and clear that the government neither understands public health nor cares for the future health of the community.

Other governments should condemn the Queensland approach though the Standing Council of Health Ministers; the Federal Government should bring all possible pressure to bear; and health professionals around the nation should use every available opportunity to make clear their distaste for this fundamentally unhealthy approach to public health.

Public health has been described as the conscience of the health system. It should be a matter of great concern for the entire community that any government is seeking to silence our conscience.

Mike Daube is Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University.

This article was first published online at The Conversation

 

O’Farrell Consigns Western Sydney to 300 Years of Nuclear Waste

Newly released documents reveal the O’Farrell Government is dumping radioactive waste – which needs to be monitored for the next 300 years – in Western Sydney.

The government’s report into moving the waste reveals:

“Long term management and monitoring (and associated funding) arrangements would need to be implemented at the disposal site for at least 300 years.” *

The feasibility review into disposal options for the waste from a former uranium smelter at Hunters Hill also shows the government has manipulated the data to avoid it being classified as radioactive – so it can be dumped at Kemps Creek.  

 “This report confirms Barry O’Farrell has broken his promise to the people of Western Sydney and is dumping radioactive waste from the North Shore in their backyard,” Opposition Leader John Robertson said.   

“The Premier’s own experts confirm the government will need to provide funding to monitor the radioactive waste for the next 300 years at Kemps Creek.

“This decision says it all about Barry O’Farrell’s real attitude to Western Sydney.” 

Shadow Environment Minister, Luke Foley said the report showed the government had found ‘radioactive hot spots’ in the waste, but twisted the data to avoid classifying it as such.

“The O’Farrell Government has manipulated the data that shows the waste is radioactive – so it can be sent to Kemps Creek,” Mr Foley said.

The report clearly states:

 “Radioactive material was detected at varying concentrations across the area… one of the samples exceeded the criteria for restricted solid waste.”

 “Therefore for the purpose of the radiological results discussion, the majority of the areas were combined into a single grouping covering the majority of the site (excluding LG4). This impacts on the potential remediation actions of the site, as the remaining areas (LG1 and LG2) will radiologically be treated as a single area.” **

 “It is clear the O’Farrell Government has reclassified the data so it can dump the North Shore’s radioactive waste in Western Sydney,” Mr Foley said.

“This report proves once and for all that Barry O’Farrell is dumping radioactive waste – that will need to be monitored until the 24th century – at Kemps Creek.”

Barry O’Farrell’s original promise to keep the waste away from Kemps Creek:

“To dump it in Western Sydney is stupid, it’s a threat, and it’s not the way any government ought to be behaving.”            (Barry O’Farrell, October 2010)

Spending on Dam Safety Upgrades Slashed By O’Farrell

State Water will slash its capital expenditure on dam safety upgrades in order to meet the O’Farrell Government’s dividend requirements, the NSW Labor Opposition has revealed.
 
The government owned State Water Corporation operates 21 dams in rural NSW, and its 2011/12 Statement of Corporate Intent reveals dam safety spending will be $120 million lower than previously budgeted over the next decade because of the O’Farrell Government’s dividend policy.
 
The drastic cuts will occur despite the report warning that many of State Water’s dams no longer comply with the NSW Dam Safety Committee’s (DSC) standards and guidelines for extreme floods and earthquakes”.*
 
The Statement of Corporate Intent has been personally signed off by Treasurer Mike Baird and Finance Minister Greg Pearce, and was tabled in the State Parliament late last month
 
“The Statement of Corporate Intent notes State Water has been forced to develop a ‘more fiscally efficient dam safety upgrade program’ in order to meet O’Farrell Government dividend requirements,” Shadow Water Minister, Luke Foley said today.**
 
“State Water has revised its 10 year business forecasts to defer Stage 2 dam safety upgrade works – designed to reduce safety risks in accordance with Dam Safety Committee requirements – across all 21 of State Water’s dams.
 
“The O’Farrell Government is budgeting for an extra $260 million in dividends from State Water over the next 10 years.
 
“This means tens of millions of dollars that State Water could and should spend on upgrading dam safety will instead be paid to the O’Farrell Government as dividend payments.”
 
State Water is subject to a Government dividend policy of 70 per cent of net profit after tax. It admits that it cannot meet that level of dividend payments and continue with the scheduled Dam Safety Program:
 
“State Water can sustain a dividend payout ratio in the range of 35 per cent to 50 per cent, but not as high as 70 per cent, if water sales are less than the 20 year average and if debt continues to increase as a result of the Stage 2 Dam Safety Upgrade Program.” ***
 
“A government that cuts back on dam safety upgrades at a time when people across NSW are battling flood waters is a government with the wrong priorities,” Mr Foley said.
 
“There can be no excuse for the O’Farrell Government putting dividend gouging ahead of dam safety in NSW.”
 
 
*Source: State Water Corporation Statement of Corporate Intent 2011-12, page 17.
**Source: State Water Corporation Statement of Corporate Intent 2011-12, page 19.
***Source: State Water Corporation Statement of Corporate Intent 2011-12, page 23

Connect now

Subscribe

Subscribe to LAWCRIMEPOLITICS.COM

Email address:

Search

Progressing the Social Democratic Agenda