« paint | Main | Pizza Hut comes to Nantong »

February 02, 2006

Small blow against corruption

I may have mentioned earlier that a "gang of three" local officials extorted about $800 from my company shortly after I arrived in Nantong at the beginning of 2003.

At the time, I was faced with so many other problems, that I acceded to their unreasonable demand for $400 for a trip to Nanjing to file papers to change our office's address and another $600 for a non-existent "security system" for the office building where we were housed. The rationale for the latter was that normally foreigners are not allowed to rent offices in the downtown of Nantong. The leader of the gang, Mr. Huang, though, told me he had found a way around this problem.

This incident really irritated me, and I kept in the back of my mind the notion that I would try to do something about it. My first attempt (see entry "Edited in the East") was to allude to the incident in my article for the local newspaper, but that attempt failed. Next, at a meeting for foreigners about public security in Nantong, I asked whether there are any restrictions on foreigners renting offices or factories in certain locations. A representative of the city government replied, "There are no restrictions. Foreigners have the same rights to rent as local people."

Armed with new information, I took my next chance. Last fall, there was another meeting for resident foreigners - this time to solicit "golden suggestions" for improving the quality of life in Nantong. While others mentioned things like traffic congestion, air quality, and lack of schools for children of expatriates, I mentioned "corruption." I carefully couched my comments in the context of a well-publicized national campaign against corrupt officials, said that I did not think the problem was prevalent in Nantong, and provided an overview of my incident (but without humiliating Mr. Huang by mentioning his name). Just as I hoped, after the meeting a young assistant to the Vice-Mayor approached me and asked for more information, so that the Vice-Mayor could make an investigation. I was prepared, with Mr. Huang's card and copies of the receipts he had given me.

I heard nothing further until a few weeks ago. It was time for another change of address. One of my colleagues had to see Mr. Huang and get his "chop" imprint on our application. He complained to her three times that I had caused him to be investigated - but he charge only a reasonable fee of 1000 rmb this time (about $125). I am gratified.

- Norty

Posted by now at February 2, 2006 10:42 AM