New targeted inspections in anti-corruption drive

China has announced a new round of inspections of science and technology departments in universities, the third 'special inspection' tour to be sanctioned by the Communist Party in recent months in its bid to clamp down on research fund embezzlement and other corrupt practices plaguing high-spending research departments.

The announcement by official media on 17 March said it would be the third round of inspections since January carried out by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, or CCDI, the frontline organisation for rooting out graft.

Intriguingly, the CCDI also said it would send a "special inspection team" to the science ministry itself, an indication of suspicions that embezzlement of research funds may be abetted in some cases by individuals within the authorities.

"Some officials, particularly top officials, have too much power to examine and approve projects and other affairs that could easily lead to corruption," said Zheng Fenming, director of the Institute of Modernization Strategy at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences.

Provincial-level corruption

At the provincial level, in August 2013 Xie Xuening, director of the Guangzhou City Bureau of Science and Information in Guangdong province in the south, was placed under investigation for taking bribes.

In another case in Foshan city in the same province, a Chuancheng District Prosecutors official said the city's Science and Technology Bureau chief Panzhi Sen was accused of taking bribes from IT companies, Guangdong's Southern News reported.

In February this year official media revealed that Wang Kewei, deputy director of the Guangdong provincial Department of Science and Technology, became the second senior official in the province to be sacked. Further details of the case were not revealed as it is still under investigation.

The director general of the same department Li Xinghua was sacked on suspicion of accepting bribes and expelled from the party in January.

At least 50 science and technology officials from the Guangdong provincial government and Guangzhou and Foshan cities have come under investigation on suspicion of violating party discipline and state laws in the past 12 months, the official China Daily reported last month.

In 2013, Communist Party inspection teams were sent to some 20 localities, government and provincial departments and state-run enterprises around the country. Official reports said the inspections had found "many leads" pointing to violations of laws and of disciplinary rules that could point to misconduct and corruption.

According to the CCDI website, the first round of inspections had identified leads on five provincial- and ministerial-level officials "suspected of serious violation of the law", and had led to the compilation of a list of issues that needed tackling.

Tightening up inspections

Official media said inspection teams had tightened up their procedures to net culprits and unearth misconduct because regular inspections at specific intervals in the past had led to a general clean-up in universities ahead of the inspectors, researchers said.

In particular, inspection teams had changed their focus from a relatively broad approach with rotating inspection team leaders to more professionalised inspections that were better prepared, homed in on specific areas and personnel and were led by a senior official, according to the official Beijing Youth Daily.

The special inspection teams are "problem oriented", according to official statements. Unlike in the past, they can also follow up an inspection with more visits soon afterwards - considered a major deterrent for wrongdoing.