Tackling corruption in China's judiciary
1. House cleaning of judiciary is more than necessary
In its editorial on July 14, 2015, China Daily applauds the government's moves to battle corruption in the judiciary.
That Xi Xiaoming, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, has become the first in his institution to be targeted by the "tiger hunters" of the Communist Party of China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection inspires hopes of a thorough cleanup of the country's judiciary.
Hopes the country cannot afford to fail.
Prior to Xi's investigation, the CPC discipline watchdog had overwhelmingly targeted Party and government leaders.
Yet, as has been rumoured and speculated, the judiciary is clearly no exception to the rampant corruption the country's leaders have vowed to eliminate.
When they want to highlight the importance of the judiciary, people like to portray it as society's "last line of defense", and the courts and judges are expected to be the ultimate defenders of justice and society's bottom lines.
But those lines have repeatedly been crossed lately, often times by rent-seeking judges.
Rumours concerning the judiciary have been rife, with judges accused of bending the law in favour of bribers.
The revelation that Xi had already been approached by the watchdog last year for alleged links with corrupt officials and business people in North China's Shanxi province, where one of the highest concentrations and broadest networks of corruption has been uncovered, adds a real-life footnote to such suggestions.
The massive corruption scandals in Shanxi, were in part uncovered as a result of the anti-corruption campaign in the energy sector, which was deemed the biggest "disaster area".
Xi's alleged connections with the messy Shanxi officialdom and business circles feeds logical speculation that his case is a natural extension of the probes there.
Which, while it sounds reasonable, begs the question: Is this just a spillover, or aftershock, of the Shanxi "tremor"?
It is hoped that is not the case, because the already tarnished image of the judiciary calls for a scrutiny of the entire system.
There is concern about preserving the image of the judiciary; revealing too much of its dark side may damage public confidence in the system, some may argue.
But that would be true only if the skeleton of corruption had been kept safely in the closet.
That is not the case here.
Given that the public's assumption of corruption appear to have been well-founded, it will be far more constructive to make the Xi probe the start of comprehensive house cleaning of the judiciary.
Preventing cyber crime in Japan
2. Prevent cyber crimes targeting IP phone users via public-private cooperation
In its editorial on July 14, 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun calls on the government and private sector to join hands to protect consumer interests
There has been a flurry of cases in which IP phone users have been overcharged by significant amounts after their phones, which use Internet connections, were hacked.
Hackers use such tactics as breaking into a switchboard that connects a telephone to the Internet, and then giving instructions to make international calls automatically by controlling the phones remotely.
In the case of international calls, domestic telecommunications carriers collect fees from IP phone users, and then pay part of the fee to phone companies in the overseas destination.
Some countries employ a system in which part of the phone charges are paid to receivers as a fee for information.
Criminal organisations are suspected of reaping profits through the fraudulent use of this system.
We cannot overlook the rampant nature of heinous cyber crimes, targeting telephones, easily accessible household items.
The telecommunications industry and supervisory authorities should cooperate closely in improving countermeasures.
Using such means as fiber-optic networks, IP phones transmit and receive voices in the form of digital signals.
As the charges for calls are comparatively low, the use of IP phones is widespread in Japan, with the number of IP phone contracts accounting for more than 50 percent of fixed-phone contracts.
NTT East and West said they have confirmed at least 130 cases of this type of hacking since last fiscal year. But the amount the damage caused, including that of other carriers, remains unclear.
One IP phone hacking victim was asked by NTT East to pay more than ¥2.5 million, with the carrier claiming that the victim made 15,000 phone calls to Africa over a matter of three days.
On a contractual basis, the phone user had no choice but to pay that bill.
But why did the carrier not suspend the phone calls as the number of international calls was obviously abnormal. Surely there are many IP phone users who are dissatisfied with the explanations given by carriers.
In many cases, users charged large amounts had asked the two NTT carriers to suspend international calls, but ended up suffering further damage as the carriers were too slow in processing the requests.
The decision of the two carriers to agree to partially compensate victims is reasonable, as the refund covers the period between when users requested the suspension of overseas calls and when such services actually ceased.
Telephone carriers should check the user's status of phone calls and take measures to suspend the phone lines promptly if the frequency of international calls is extremely unusual.
It also is important for both telecom carriers and phone sales companies to explain the danger of illegal access by hackers and measures to prevent this from happening.
Users should take such self-protection measures as changing passwords, needed when gaining access to an IP phone switchboard, to ones that are more difficult for others to work out.
This type of damage was particularly severe in March, and involved IP phones installed by a Tokyo phone sales company. But it was already in July when the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry requested, in written form, that telecom carriers reinforce measures against this type of hacking.
The ministry acted far too late.
The ministry must prevent the damage caused by cyber crimes from spreading by sharing relevant information with such organizations as the Consumer Affairs Agency and the police.
Questioning official 'charity' in India
3. Wheat subsidy makes no sense
In its editorial on July 15, 2015, The Statesman calls for drastic reforms in the agriculture sector.
Resort to the clichéd "robbing Peter to pay Paul" might cause NDA leaders to suspect attempted "conversion", but in the figurative sense of the term that is precisely what this government has followed several of its predecessors in doing.
However, in the ultimate analysis, it is the taxpayer who foots the bill.
Reason to recall the cliché comes from the Food Corporation of India finding itself dumped with 27 million tonnes of the poor quality wheat that it was officially directed to procure after unseasonal rains and hail damaged the standing and just-harvested rabi crop earlier this year.
True that was a move to provide relief to distressed farmers, but it actually shifted the burden to the FCI.
Financial jugglery, as in the case of a large sum being allocated for flood-relief in J& K and then a substantial portion of it being deducted towards payment to the Army for services rendered.
Adding to the FCI's problem is that the inferior quality wheat has a limited shelf-life, there are few takers for it, even for the public distribution system, and imported wheat (an estimated 500,000 tonnes have been ordered) actually proves more economic.
It is difficult not to recall a couple of other clichés such as "there is no free lunch" and "you cannot fool all the people all the time".
This is precisely what governments have been doing down the years.
The "relaxation" of procurement standards eases the woes of the farmer, is it justified to add them to troubles of the already inefficiency-hit FCI? Well, maybe that is why politicians so love the public sector, it is there for the squeezing.
This criticism is in no way intended to underplay the need for relief to farmers who are so critically dependent on nature's bounty, then get buffeted when high production creates a glut and distress sales follow.
The system of compensation and insurance has to be overhauled, and financial assistance must be upfront.
Since rain damage to harvested crops is not uncommon, ways will have to be found to effectively utilise inferior quality foodgrains and other farm produce: the rains in March-April were indeed unseasonal and extensive but were by no means a one-off affair. With deficit rainfall now a "live" issue the focus has, perhaps rightly, shifted away from inferior wheat.
Trying to get rid of it through the PDS would actually be another form of class-discrimination ~ those too poor to shop in the "open market" being forced to eat unappetising chappatis.
The overall management of the agriculture sector is in drastic need of reform, moving from red tape to red carpet would be welcome here too.
Alas, there are no 'Captains of the Farms" to press the case.