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2017-11-24 07:27:05

More than two-thirds of cadres at a county civil affairs bureau in southwestern China had relatives who received welfare stipends they did not qualify for, state broadcaster CCTV reported Wednesday.

A four-month investigation by a local discipline inspection commission uncovered 82 unlawful welfare recipients related to employees of the civil affairs bureau in Longchuan County, which lies on the border with Myanmar in Yunnan province.

They had accepted a total of 405,000 yuan ($61,000) in monthly allowances intended to support low-income families and people with disabilities. The recipients have been told to return the money, and five senior officials have been disciplined, including the bureau’s former director, Yang Enzeng, who was demoted and had his Party membership put on probation for two years.

The investigation also found other irregularities at the bureau — which is in charge of welfare payments — to the tune of 3 million yuan in misappropriated funds, including 800,000 yuan in illicit payments to two cadres.

Yang described the investigation results to CCTV as “the darkness under the light,” a phrase used for corruption cases in departments tasked with weeding out illegal conduct. Previously, the civil affairs bureau had only conducted spot checks among residents who were not related to employees, he said.

Xiong Wansheng, head of urban and rural development research at East China University of Science and Technology, told Sixth Tone that in lower levels of government, the possibility for corruption is greater since civil servants have relatively more power. A civil affairs bureau, for example, won’t be closely inspected by other departments, Xiong said: “The lack of peer monitoring means that the civil affairs bureau will only be inspected by themselves.”

Because the criteria surrounding government allowances are ambiguous, officials have leeway to fudge the rules and sign up their relatives, Xiong explained, suggesting that there should be more transparency about who receives welfare. Earlier this month, however, several local governments were criticized for violating privacy when they published the full names and contact details of welfare recipients.

Since low-income allowances were established in 1997, cases of welfare-related graft have been common across China. In 2014, the government started a campaign to clean up recipient lists, and at least 4 million people have since had their allowances canceled. In 2015, Jiangcheng County, also in Yunnan province, announced that 20,000 people — or about one-sixth of its population — had been receiving welfare stipends they did not qualify for.

As of 2016, more than 60 million people received low-income subsidies, costing the Chinese government 170 billion yuan annually.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A welfare recipient walks along a road in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, Oct. 17, 2011. Chu Yongzhi/VCG)