Rule of Law

Graft-buster needs an iron face

The Australian
July 30, 2006

Li Jinhua, director of China’s National Auditing Office, ‘gave an example of farmers in Hubei province who received compensation of $783 per hectare when they were entitled to $30,800.’

LI Jinhua is a mixture of Elliot Ness, the US Treasury official who put Al Capone behind bars, Allan Fels when he ran the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and one of the Seven Samurai. He is the epitome of a legendary but all too rare Chinese type: the upright mandarin, known as Iron Face because of his refusal to concede to appeals from high and low bureaucrats alike, asking him to look away just this time. For eight years, he has been director of China’s National Auditing Office. Since then, he has rained righteous judgments down on the country’s extraordinarily leaky bureaucracy. He says that less than half the money deployed on services by Beijing is ever spent on the budgeted projects, having simply disappeared. His latest discovery, announced a week ago, is that over the past two years $3.2 billion budgeted for the country’s underprivileged farmers — who are participating in a sporadic and unco-ordinated burst of demonstrations against greedy local officials — drained away before reaching them. … Among the prime causes for the growing antipathy to the Government is the theft of land by officials. Li gave an example of farmers in Hubei province who received compensation of $783 per hectare when they were entitled to $30,800. Li’s annual list of shame is having a diminishing impact. The shock effect has gone. Officialdom has adjusted itself to this regular melodrama and withstood it. Life goes on, essentially, as normal.

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