Despite gaping loopholes, experts say passport restrictions can curb corruption

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/25 18:33:39

Photo: IC

Recently, a senior official surnamed Yan from Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province received a warning from the Communist Party of China (CPC) for refusing to hand over his private passport and travelling to gambling hub Macau seven times without CPC permission, once again triggering public concerns over corruption.

China has tightened its supervision over passports of officials and public employees since 2014. Many university faculty members previously told the Global Times that their schools started collecting the private passports of associate professors and associate researchers this year. 

Moreover, in September 2015, a total of 223 village officials from Tianhe district in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province were reportedly made to turn over their private passports to the authorities, as part of local government efforts to prevent corrupt officials from fleeing overseas.

Experts have pointed out that collecting officials' passports is necessary to combat corruption and to encourage officials - especially high-level ones - to stay clean.

Enforcement loopholes

There are four types of Chinese passports, including two kinds of personal passports. One type is used for private travel while the other one is used by employees of State-owned enterprises or public institutions only for business travel.

The central government released a statement in 2003 requiring all civil servants to report outbound private travel in advance and requiring departments at all levels to properly register such information.

"Human resource departments require us to hand over our private passports and apply for any outbound trips," Li Ping, an official with the Wuhan government publicity department, told the Global Times.

However, Li said that he didn't hand in a passport as he didn't have one, adding that the HR department didn't then check whether or not he really does have a passport, which could be a loophole for officials who simply lie about not having a passport.

The investigators who looked into Yan's case told the Changjiang Daily that Yan claimed to have lost his private passport when the local government examined officials' passports in 2013 and he presented declaration of loss at the time. However, during another examination in 2015, Yan was found to have been to Macau seven times using his private passport.

Similarly, in January, Zhou Laizhen, former deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, was expelled from CPC and public office for multiple offenses including graft and hindering official investigations, news portal reported.

An official investigation showed that Zhou did not hand in his private passport and failed to honestly report his personal affairs.

Another bureau-level official in Wuhan told the Global Times that his department has implemented strict rules about private passports and they can only apply for outbound travel for business. Their passports are collected immediately after they come back to China.

An employee from a large-scale State-owned enterprise told the Global Times that her company has collected the private travel passports of employees whose work involves company secrets.

However, she added that if they did not hand in their personal passports, they can still go abroad without making an application by using their private passports.

"In addition, the systems used to record passport information used by China's visa departments and customs authorities are not connected to each other," said the employee.

Strict rules

"Collecting private passports is a special tactic which shows the country's determination to fight corruption. It could effectively stop corrupt officials from fleeing overseas," Li Danyang, a research fellow at the School of Public Administration of Guangzhou-based Jinan University, told the Global Times.

A total of 1,915 fugitives hiding in more than 70 countries and regions have been returned to China along with 7.47 billion yuan ($1.12 billion) of ill-gotten cash since 2014, China's top anti-graft body said on its official website on September 6.

Chinese officials have been feeling the heat since a series of regulations tightened controls over them since China's anti-graft campaign, including the "strictest ever" asset reporting system.

According to the asset declaration system, which was developed by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, officials at the deputy county level or above are required to report their personal information annually to the Party, including personal and family assets and investments, any overseas travel, as well as the nationality and occupation of their relatives, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Newspaper headline: Vacation villainy

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