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UPDATED: March 4, 2014 NO. 10 MARCH 6, 2014
Spending Appropriately
Efforts are being made at both the central and local level to prevent the misuse of taxpayer money
By Yin Pumin

"The central authorities have realized the importance of keeping up with the public's growing awareness of transparency and are pushing for change, especially at a time when many government agencies are still treating public requests without care," said Han Fuzheng, a Hebei-based lawyer.

He complained that currently there's no clear standard but only general categories that determine what should be disclosed. "Some departments even refuse to disclose under the premise of confidentiality, or give vague responses," he noted. "We urgently need to set up a specific information disclosure system, and make clear rules on what punitive measures will be taken should officials violate the rules."

Corruption on wheels

Official statistics show that vehicles make up the largest portion of expenditures on the "three public-funded consumption categories."

For example, Guangdong spent 864 million yuan ($142.21 million) on the three categories last year, of which 500 million yuan ($81.64 million) went toward vehicle purchases and maintenance.

"Reform concerning government vehicles should be regarded as the core method to further reduce officials' expenditure that are covered by public funds," said Ye Qing, Deputy Director of the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Statistics.

In December 2012, the central authorities issued rules aiming to cut excessive spending of public funds, with decreasing the misuse of government vehicles as one of the priorities.

However, the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) circulated a notice in mid-November last year, citing 4,851 cases involving either the misuse of government cars for private purposes or the purchase of excessively luxurious cars. These two violations of the frugality guidelines accounted for one third of all that were recorded.

Plenty of government officials treat official cars as if they were personal property and use them to send their children to school, attend weddings and even go shopping or traveling in them.

It is also common for government departments to require subordinate enterprises or institutions to "temporarily transfer" vehicles whose prices go beyond their budgets to higher-level departments.

Some officials have been caught shielding vehicle plates or driving under the influence while in government cars. Last August, four people were killed when Xu Jianping, a deputy head of the forestry bureau of Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province, drove drunk in an official vehicle.

Car use also creates more opportunities for corruption, as some officials run up large bills on gasoline and "repairs" in order to receive reimbursements from the government, according to anti-graft experts.

In an effort to combat the trend, the government of Xinyu in Jiangxi decided last December that it would auction off 83 percent of the vehicles belonging to it. As a result, up to 15 million yuan ($2.45 million) in administrative costs is estimated to be saved each year.

Less stringent, but still effective, moves have also been implemented in other regions.

In Yongsheng County in Lijiang City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, government cars are clearly marked, allowing the public to easily identify them and report misuse. This practice is shared by the government of Sihong County in east China's Jiangsu Province.

In Guangzhou, GPS technology and a user identification system were adopted two years ago to track misused government vehicles, a move which local supervisory authorities estimate helped save 40 million yuan ($6.58 million) in a year.

The 400 government vehicles in Qitai County, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, are also monitored via GPS at all hours.

However, it's still widely believed among the public that "corruption on wheels" cannot be eradicated unless the decades-old system of government vehicles is reformed.

According to a survey conducted recently by China Youth Daily, more than 71 percent of the respondents support the abolition of vehicles for officials.

The survey sampled 5,100 people, who blame lax enforcement of existing measures for vehicle-based corruption.

According to Ye, China may have more than 2 million government cars. "It is hard for discipline watchdogs to monitor the use of every car," Ye said.

The ultimate goal of the reform is to abolish the system of government cars, except for a very few vehicles for special use, Ye added.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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