China's new agency to keep tabs on all public servants

While many see it as boost to anti-graft fight, some fear it is a tool forXi to use against rivals

China is planning to set up a new national anti-corruption and supervision agency that will have real teeth in monitoring all public servants, including Cabinet ministers, judges and prosecutors.

However, while the new outfit is regarded positively by many as a step forward in China's fight against corruption, it is also viewed warily by some as another powerful tool at the disposal of President Xi Jinping to be used against rivals.

Talk of a new national supervision committee recently was confirmed on Nov 7 after pilot programmes were announced in capital Beijing, and Shanxi and Zhejiang provinces.

It will come under the National People's Congress (NPC), China's Parliament, like the State Council, Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate.

Analysts said under the set-up now, the Ministry of Supervision, which reports directly to the State Council - China's Cabinet - may find it hard to uncover cases involving superiors in the government.

"The new committee, being set up under the NPC and pegged at the same level as the executive and judiciary branches, will enjoy not only independence but also greater authority in carrying out its work of supervision," Chinese political expert Li Nan of the East Asian Institute in Singapore told The Straits Times.

Various supervision and anti-corruption agencies in the executive and judiciary could come under the new committee, which will reportedly share resources with the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI), the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) disciplinary watchdog.

Besides the Ministry of Supervision, others include the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

"A consolidated outfit will help improve coordination and reduce the inefficiencies arising from duplicate work among various agencies," said Shanghai University of Political Science and Law political scientist Chen Daoyin.

For instance, the Ministry of Supervision can oversee only staff in the executive branch.

Observers said the new outfit, which could be approved at the 19th Party Congress late next year and launched at the national parliamentary session in March 2018, is necessary to plug gaps in the current supervision system.

The CCDI supervises only party members, while the Ministry of Supervision tends to focus on administrative organs such as universities.

With most civil servants, especially the senior officials, being CCP members, the CCDI can technically be supervising the entire civil service, anti-corruption expert Xiao Bin of the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou city said.

"But the CCDI focuses on the personal indiscretion of the CCP members. There is a need for a more effective and equipped outfit to supervise the work of civil servants, especially when it comes to matters involving professional expertise," he added.

Analysts said politics might also be at play behind the setting up of the new committee, signalling that CCDI chief Wang Qishan could remain on the apex Politburo Standing Committee during a leadership reshuffle at the 19th Party Congress despite reaching the unofficial retirement age of 68 this year.

With Mr Wang being a firm ally of Mr Xi, the new outfit could also strengthen the latter's control of the executive and judiciary though both will need to strike a delicate balance in using it, analysts added.

"If entrusted with excessive powers, the committee could create a negative atmosphere within the bureaucracy that leads many to do less lest they make mistakes," said Dr Li.

"It will also invite suspicions that the committee is more of a political tool for Xi against his adversaries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'China's new agency to keep tabs on all public servants'. Print Edition | Subscribe