Sacrificing rule of law no price for economic stability 2009-01-30 17:41:20   Print

    By Xinhua writer Wang Cong

    BEIJING, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Had Guangdong Province had jurisdiction over China's largest home electronics chain Gome, chairman Huang Guangyu, China's richest person, might be spending his Lunar New Year holiday with his family -- rather than in police detention.

    Beijing police detained the former street peddler, who owns a third of Beijing-based Gome with estimated assets of 43 billion yuan (6.3 billion U.S. dollars), for allegedly manipulating share trading, a charge being investigated by the Ministry of Public Security.

    Tycoons like Huang would suffer a different fate in Guangdong due to a new policy issued by the provincial High People's Procuratorate on the "prudent handling" of influential company owners who are suspected of breaking the law. The rationale underlining the policy is that law enforcement should disrupt businesses as little as possible during the global economic downturn.

    The procuratorate, which is mandated to issue arrest warrants, in its Jan. 6 guideline orders law enforcement agencies to defer detaining or arresting company representatives who are key to corporate management and business operations, when they are accused of minor offenses.

    The guideline also demands "police should prudently use such measures as sealing up, impounding or freezing the assets of companies suspected of illegalities, especially those currently in operational difficulty."

    This policy is, inadvertently, creating loopholes to allow crooked magnates to hide evidence of their wrongdoing.

    It comes as concern grows over the health of China's export-oriented economy. Many companies in Guangdong, a major export base, are struggling with over capacity, which leads to unemployment.

    Keeping jobs, and thus social stability, is a valid concern during hard times. But is equality before the law to be the price for this stability?

    The provincial procuratorate may have the best intentions in discreetly dealing with violations "at a more proper time", but why sacrifice the principle that everyone is equal before the law that legal authorities have been advocating for decades?

    The Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC) states: "All citizens of the PRC are equal before the law. Every citizen enjoys the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the Constitution and the law."

    Treating wealthy bosses, who understandably have more say on the regional or national economic well-being, differently from ordinary people contradicts the spirit of the Constitution.

    The one exception to the principle, under Chinese law, is that the detention, arrest and trial of legislators above county level should be adjourned for approval of the legislatures.

    A 1981 resolution of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's highest legislature, states that only the Supreme People's Procuratorate can issue legal interpretations concerning prosecution proceedings.

    The supreme procuratorate and its subordinates are required by the law "to investigate criminal activities, to bring lawbreakers to justice, to safeguard the sanctity of the law".

    For more than a decade, the government has advocated the rule of law, but this is futile if equality is considered dispensable for social or economic stability.

    Huang Guangyu's detention has had little effect on Gome, which has announced no job cuts, despite the economic downturn.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia
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