Watchdogs must not overstep boundaries of supervision
The local anti-graft commission in Tunliu county of Changzhi city, North China’s Shanxi province, issued a report on Sept 30 criticizing 24 high school teachers for spending a total of 1,390 yuan ($207) on a meal that included alcohol. However, whether it has the right to discipline the teachers in this instance has been questioned as the teachers paid for the meal themselves.
The Changzhi discipline authorities said on Sunday that the previous accusation of the local antigraft commission in Tunliu county, which stopped short of explaining why the teachers’ gathering was “improper”, was not well thought out and it decided to withdraw it. However, two teachers were required to criticize themselves at a faculty meeting, and the others were summoned before the commission.
Since the nationwide campaign against corruption was launched at the end of 2012, members of the Communist Party of China face stricter austerity rules aimed at reducing bureaucracy and extravagance. Indeed, the anti-graft efforts have paid off and become more efficient, thanks to these rules and an increasing number of residents who contribute to the anti-graft efforts by reporting the misdemeanors of Party members.
Whether the 24 Changzhi teachers’ feasting was reported by anonymous residents remains unclear, but there are doubts about whether the local discipline commission had any grounds for criticizing the teachers. Its sternly worded report was not based on a thorough investigation and the teachers’ explanation, fueling speculation that the anti-corruption campaign always picks on the vulnerable and powerless.
The Changzhi discipline authorities have now withdrawn the case.
However, damage has been done to procedural justice. Before issuing a disciplinary penalty, the discipline inspection departments at all levels should widely solicit public opinions and listen to the appeals lodged by the accused.
Disclosing corruption cases on a regular basis is no doubt needed as a credible deterrence. Some punished rule-breakers will seek to hide their misconducts and pretend nothing has happened, if what they have done is not made public. Some even seek revenge on the “whistleblowers” that report their abuses of power to the disciplinary watchdogs. Yet, rushing to distribute inaccurate, if not unfounded, disciplinary punishments, is counterproductive, because they may cause unnecessary trouble for officials that are innocent of any wrongdoing and have negative social impacts. Therefore the disciplinary authorities need to double-check alleged “severe violations of discipline” as well as the reports that are to be issued about such cases before making them public. On their part, residents, especially Party members, have the right to tip off the local discipline commission to corruption, but they also have the responsibility to make sure what they say via online reporting platforms is correct and welldocumented. This is not to say they are not supposed to supervise corrupt officials. Quite the contrary, residents should be mobilized and encouraged to join the anti-corruption fight, which in turn is likely to give them a sense of participation in social governance. They are just not allowed to overstep the boundaries in supervision.