China parliament delegates speak out against corruption, red tape

BEIJING Tue Mar 12, 2013 2:57am IST

Security officers stand guard outside the Great Hall of the People during the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Security officers stand guard outside the Great Hall of the People during the third plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing March 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Amid praise for China's Communist Party and the government's work report is an increasingly common complaint from delegates to annual parliamentary meetings - too much red tape and corruption.

The parallel convening of China's parliament and its main advisory body is usually a tightly scripted series of meetings meant to show unity and how China is tackling its many issues.

But at this year's gatherings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, grousing over administrative headaches and bribery in order to do business has risen in volume.

"We are helpless when faced with such complicated regulatory approval procedures," said Li Shufu, chairman of automotive group Geely (0175.HK), which owns Swedish brand Volvo.

Li, a delegate to the NPC, noted an "important speech" by a senior leader that opposed behaviour that interferes with market-oriented economic activities.

"But I think regulatory approval, by its nature, has interfered with normal market and economic activities," Li said.

Chinese as well as foreign companies face multiple approvals to expand operations, or pursue mergers and acquisitions and other corporate strategy, including permission from the Commerce Ministry, Finance Ministry, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), State Administration of Foreign Exchange and other panels, depending on the industry.

Attempts by both Chinese and foreign enterprises to do business in China have been thwarted by the number of hoops through which to jump and the time needed to complete them all.

Then there's the bribery.

"The NDRC and other ministries are given the power for approvals so that only a handful of people manage the whole country," said Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of drinks company Wahaha, and one of China's wealthiest individuals.

"There have been people who have gone to those ministries to hand over money because they need to get approvals," said Zong, who is also an NPC delegate.

"I think this is a big problem that has affected our country's economic development, and has also led to corruption."

Comments by Li, Zong and others were reported by Chinese media. Delegates have likely been emboldened to speak out by increased talk by China's leadership to crack down on the crookedness that pervades the country, from getting in to see a doctor more quickly to lining officials' pockets for favours.

Lai Ming, president of the Jiusan Society, one of China's non-communist political parties, said he also faults the convoluted bureaucracy.

"The need for too many complicated, opaque bureaucratic approvals is an important source of corruption," said Lai, a CPPCC delegate. "China's reform of bureaucratic approvals and self-restriction on power is an arduous task. We cannot be soft in cracking down on such vested interests."

Prosecutors have investigated 30 officials at the ministerial level or higher for corruption over the past five years, Procurator General Cao Jianming reported on Sunday, according to the government-run news agency Xinhua.

Also on Sunday, China unveiled a plan to cut cabinet-level entities by two and dissolve its powerful Railways Ministry in a bid to boost efficiency and combat corruption.

Land grabs by local governments are another sore point brought up by at least one delegate.

"If I bump into the premier, I will say, '(if you) want to rein in housing prices, (you should) first rein in the government'," said Huang Wenzai, chairman of property developer Star River and a CPPCC delegate.

"The government has been selling land at hefty prices so naturally housing prices will be high," Huang said. (Additional reporting by Langi Chiang; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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