In China, small potatoes corrupt big

Alia | November 12th, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Everyone, no matter how insignificant, should dream big.

That’s probably the life motto of Ma Chaoqun, a director at a state-owned water plant in second-tier city Qin Huangdao, Hebei province. He dreamed big, though it was about corruption.

bYesterday, news broke that a total of 120 million yuan of cash, 37 kilograms of gold and 68 property ownership certificates were found in the home of Ma Chaoqun, a section level official (keji), the lowest level in China’s government administrative grades.

Needless to say, the whole country is taken aback – everybody is angry and curious about how such a low-level official working at a water plant has managed to be so corrupt. Many netizens sarcastically joked: “Nothing is impossible in China when it comes to corruption.”

When Chinese president Xi Jinping first launched his mass-line anti-corruption campaign, he vowed that “discipline inspectors” will go after both “tigers and flies.” Initially, “tigers” were what most people were interested in – after all, who’d miss a House of Cards reality show with real scandals and politicians.

The Chinese government has since brought down a few dozens of top-rank officials, such as former army chief Xu Caihou. As the war on graft marches on, however, it seems that flies, though small, are no small issue.  A small leak will sing a great ship. The great ship of China has millions of small leaks like Ma who hide millions of ill-gotten money at home.  

Last month, a government accountant from a small village on the outskirts of Beijing was found to have “borrowed” 119 million yuan from public fund.  Earlier this year, another village cadre in Shenzhen was found to take more than RMB 90 million worth of bribes. According to China’s Commission for Discipline Inspection, there have been 171 cases of “corrupt flies” since 2013, and a total of 2.2 billion yuan were involved. No kidding. 2.2 billion.

Most of these flies are from Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Beijing, which also happen to be the most developed areas in China. The country’s fast urbanization is at the root of most cases. It’s no news that land sales have been a big part of local GDP in China. Cadres can get fat pretty easily by feeding on land sale kickbacks or demolition compensations. This is also why these cases of “small potatoes corrupt big” are more often than not coupled with violent land grab.

For China, flies could pose bigger risk than tigers in years to come. As one netizen commented: “Flies are many and too small to receive major attention from the top.”

 

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