Many contributors to this blog have mentioned before Xi Jinping’s expansive anti-corruption campaign (myself, Miller, Helvey, and Brister). China Daily reports that Guangdong official Wang Kewei has become the latest casualty of this purge. Charged with violating Party ethics guidelines and State laws, Wang is the second senior official in the Guangdong Provincial Department of Science and Technology to be expunged since the start of the year. In fact, at least 50 Guangdong provincial and city-level technocrats—responsible for promoting regional scientific research and development—have been placed under investigation in the past year.
This is a positive indicator in that, as I have discussed before, Mr. Xi is serious is his efforts to root out fraud. However it is concerning that the misuse of government subsidies is so widespread, especially given the relative importance of promoting scientific and technological innovation—to prepare for a water and food security crisis, reduce emissions and pollution of farmland and water systems, and improve healthcare delivery (among innumerable other external benefits and policy goals).
Because China’s R&D spending has grown by more than 1500% since 2000 and accounts for almost 2% of GDP, it offers many opportunities for indiscretions. In fact, as much as one third of the Guangdong’s R&D subsidies may be snaffled by the provincial officials charged with allocating them. In 2010, two prominent researchers, Rao Yi and Shi Yigong, opined that “to obtain major grants in China, it is an open secret that doing good research is not as important as schmoozing with powerful bureaucrats and their favorite experts.”
Wang Dong, the deputy mayor Guangzhou, believes that the subsidy-allocation system “must be improved,” and that while the “government annually invests a large sum of money in funding research, we need to introduce effective and concrete measures to prevent the research funding from being misused and siphoned off by corrupt officials.” According to Zeng Fenming, director of the Institute of Modernization Strategy at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, grant approval power needs to be decentralized and subject to greater administrative oversight and review.
As the central government becomes frustrated with stagnating returns on its ballooning R&D budget, these reforms may be pursued at the national level: on the 12th the State Council released new transparency guidelines for the allocation of research funding, and on the 15th the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline announced that, along with a new round of investigations, a “special inspection team” will be formed to scrutinize the Ministry of Science and Technology.