Xu Changsheng (徐昌生) is the Vice-President of a real estate development company in Jiangxi province. The following post on his blog, Looking at the World from an Economist’s Perspective, has received more than 240 comments. CDT thanks the translator who prefers to remain anonymous:
On Monday morning, just as I chaired our regular office meeting, I was suddenly notified that a Mr. Wang and a Mr. Liu from the city Disciplinary and Inspection committee had come to visit. When officials show up, one does not dare keep them waiting, so I quickly concluded the meeting and went to the reception room with the leaders of company for a talk.
After a few words of introduction, they quickly got to the point. These two office directors have come to fight corruption. They said that they had heard that the XXX Bureau in reviewing proposals tended to demand entertainment and presents, even to the point of demanding bribes or asking for “support”. They hoped that we would stand up and make a report to expose this behavior.
While I listened, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but even if I were ten times braver, I still wouldn’t make a report. I can only make a big smile, and tell them in a roundabout way, that when we sent proposal for approval to the XXX Bureau, they didn’t make trouble for us, the service that gave us was entirely acceptable, and they didn’t ask us to sponsor anything.
I thought that by giving them this brief explanation, they would realize that they weren’t going to get anywhere and leave. But no, I hadn’t expected that these leaders would have come prepared.
Office Director Liu said, “General Manager Xu, don’t try to cover things up. Last year, during the XX Festival, your work unit make an RMB 5000 donation. Did you think I didn’t know that? Moreover, when you project was being reviewed, how could you not have sent a present? I came here prepared with this information.”
I was stunned. It was true. Last year at that time we did give XXX Bureau an RMB 5000 support fee. I had to admit to it. It wouldn’t have been worth my while to get into trouble with the disciplinary and inspection committee. However I still insisted that I would not make a report since I was afraid that they would take revenge later. Of course, I was not afraid for myself but afraid for the company.
Office Director Liu said, “We’ll keep your company’s report secret. Just let me see the number on the receipt for the support fee that you company paid and we’ll be able to track them down by following the paper trail. It will be very clear that they are forcing companies to pay support fees.
I said that although it would be easy to provide the receipt number, but the XXX Bureau will be able to use the number to find out that we reported on them. What can we do when that happens?
“Don’t you hate corruption? Do you really want this kind of corruption to continue indefinitely? If every citizen does not fulfill their responsibility to oppose corruption, won’t corruption just get worse and worse?” said Office Director Liu passionately.
I explained that I certain would not collude in corruption myself, but I must act as a manager of the company, in the long-term interests of the company. I cannot make a report about such a small matter. I stressed that XXX Bureau is not the only one doing this kind of thing. I can’t count how many times we run into this over the course of a year, but we choose to put up with it.
Office Director Wang urged me not to worry. He said, “This is not a routine matter that we just happened to pick up on. This is something planned by the party secretary of the discipline and inspection committee so it must be pursued to the end. Once we have irrefutable evidence, we will ferret out the corrupt elements. They will be fired and prosecuted. After that happens, how could they take revenge against you?”
I said, “Our company doesn’t want that to happen! Just think for a minute. We already know all the officials we have to deal with. When we have business with them, they give use smiling face and a cup of warm water and give us a chance to explain matters to them. If the officials change, then the company will be forced to spend a lot of time and money. It may well be that the officials how replace them will be even greedier and more evil.”
Office Director Wang still wouldn’t give up. “This is just your company being too cowardly. Just think, if you were determined to make a report whenever you encountered a corrupt element, we could just keep on arresting them, so whenever a corrupt element appeared, he would be caught. Since they would be caught, why would your company have to worry about revenge? When we arrest this one, the people behind him won’t dare to do anything. Wouldn’t your company’s business go more smoothly that way?”
I said, “If one day all officials don’t dare to be corrupt at all, our company would have to close down. It wouldn’t be just us, business would be very bad for most other companies as well!”If
Without corruption, companies would still have to close? The two office directors looked confused and suspicious.
I continued, “This is because officials have too much power to make decisions. Break one regulation and you can be fined from thousands to tens of thousands of RMB — that is a scale of over ten to one. If officials become determined to stand on principle and not to bend the rules, they just assess the maximum fine each time. How could a company survive that?”
“This is the crux of the problem”, I continued, “Companies in some fields can’t but break the rules, even companies with very high moral principles. This is because the government has too much power. It wants to control everything and there has to be a standard for everything. If officials dare to be corrupt, their flexibility gives companies a space in which they can survive. If an official refuses to be corrupt, then a company will not be able to survive.”
“Then you mean to say that we should not oppose corruption?”, the two office directors asked?
I quickly added, “Of course we have to oppose corruption, but the way we oppose corruption has to change fundamentally. Today, since the oversight by public opinion is still not effective, the most effective method would be to reduce the scope of the powers of officials. If government power can be removed from areas where is should not control, officials will naturally lose convenient occasions for corruption. In such an arrangement, even if we were not fighting corruption, corruption would not be serious. Conversely, if we keep giving officials more and more power, this will make officials even more capable to taking a corrupt big bit for themselves, so that even the most strict anti-corruption measures will not be effective! This is not a matter of particular officials, since if Mr. Zhang is taken away, Mr. Li will just take his place. Officials keeping on with the corrupt practices of their predecessors is nothing new. The problem is that we have an irrational system that continually fosters the rise of corrupt officials.”
The officials seemed to understand, but were still not willing to agree. “If all companies take the same position as you, how will we be able to do our work?”
I struck while the iron was hot. “You can go talk to the manager of Yueliang Shanzhuang over there. Maybe he will be willing to tell you what is really going on.”
Office Director Liu, not understanding, asked “You don’t dare to speak up, why should they be willing to speak up?”
I said, “The situation of our two companies is different. Yueliang Shanzhuang has already completed their development and their company does not have any other new projects in this city. They plan to leave next month. Therefore, giving you the proof you want won’t put them at risk. Their situation is different from our company that still has tens of thousands of square meters that it hasn’t developed yet.” I laughed, saying, “If you can wait, two years from now when we have completed our project, I promise to tell you what you want to know.”
The two office directors thought I was being reasonable and so didn’t try to force the issue. They decided to visit Yueliang Shanzhuang. I urged them to stay, expecting that the leaders would stay to have lunch with us, but they refused with thanks.
As I saw their backs moving further and further away, I sighed with relief. I hadn’t gotten myself into trouble with the disciplinary and inspection committee! Then I had a cold feeling in my heart, since judging by the present situation, the power of officials hasn’t been reduced at all. Just the opposite: there are signs that it is gradually getting stronger and stronger.