China scrambles to fill job vacancies amid graft crackdown

Chinese President Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown has made headlines around the world, but it has also created a headache for provincial authorities having to fill thousands of suddenly vacated posts.

Datong, China (dpa) – The new brick wall around the old inner city of Datong in Shanxi province, which served as a Chinese capital under three separate dynasties, has a gap waiting to be filled.

Construction appears to have halted while inside the walls international brand stores are boarded up and outside, luxury apartments stand mostly unoccupied or half-built.

Other projects have also slowed to a crawl as the new leadership of the resource-rich province scrambles to fill nearly 300 posts left vacant by an anti-corruption drive directed from Beijing.

Last year, 15,450 officials were punished for corruption in Shanxi, of which seven were from the senior provincial leadership.

The coal-producing province has been on the frontline of China’s campaign against corruption since last year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

There were nearly 300 vacancies in the provincial administration due to the campaign, including three city party chiefs and 13 county heads, according to Wang Rulin, secretary of the Shanxi Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Wang told state media last month that several senior positions have been filled so far, but the process has “not been easy” since candidates are falling under corruption probes as well.

“Shanxi has organized various methods to select qualified people. We contacted 622 people directly and created a list,” Wang said.

“However, one leading candidate was investigated within half a month. And another candidate ranked at the very front and who promised [he or she] was clean, was also investigated within a month.”

The widespread corruption in Shanxi has even inspired former deputy governor of the province, Zhang Ming, to write a novel based on his colleagues’ struggles to resist bribes from the powerful coal lobby.

“When large sums of money and belongings pile up in front of your eyes, would you be able to understand that this is a crime, that it is trampling on the law?” Zhang said in an interview with Beijing News. He said he was probably only able to resist temptation because he was in charge of industries like education, science, culture and sports.

“Human nature is very fragile and weak,” Zhang said.

It is not only Shanxi that is facing official shortages from the ongoing anti-corruption drive.

Launched in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “tigers and flies” anti-graft campaign has lasted longer and struck at a more senior level than many analysts expected.

Last year alone, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection carried out investigations of 71,748 officials and has imposed penalties on 23,646 of them so far, according to statistics posted on the watchdog’s website.

Top officials detained since last year include Ling Jihua, former aide to retired president Hu Jintao; Su Rong, former vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body; and Jiang Jiemin, former head of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

China’s ex-security chief, Zhou Yongkang, the biggest “tiger” netted in the campaign so far, was officially charged with bribery, abuse of power and intentional disclosure of state secrets last week.

With the campaign showing no signs of waning, not only are officials trying to lie low to avoid catching the attention of disciplinary authorities, fewer people in China are interested in joining their ranks.

“Government jobs are no longer attractive,” said Wu Qiang, professor of politics at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. “With the anti-corruption campaign going on the risk of a government job is higher while ‘off the books’ income will be lower.”

Meanwhile, “those currently working as officials have less desire for promotions and want to attract less attention. Government work is coming to a standstill as employees try to figure out how to buck the trend [without] getting into trouble,” Wu said.

In a country of over 1.3 billion people only 900,000 people turned up for the annual civil servants exam in November, the lowest number of candidates since 2010. They were competing for 22,200 vacancies in government agencies.

Salaries for civil service jobs in China are very low – in line with Communist principles of serving the people – with basic monthly salaries for lower-level officials ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 yuan (325 to 650 dollars),

Even after a pay raise earlier this year for civil servants, President Xi official salary is only 11,385 yuan (1,850 dollars) each month.

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