"Corruption on Wheels" Still Rampant despite Strict Rules
   2013-11-19 15:59:09    Xinhua      Web Editor: Mao

Even when faced with the risk of being removed from their posts, some officials are still treating government cars as their own.

The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee issued a package of rules in December of last year requiring officials to refrain from excessive spending of public money, including misuse of government-funded cars. Violators could have their behavior exposed to the public, be removed from their posts, or even fired.

The CPC disciplinary watchdog has strengthened official and media supervision and has even adopted GPS technology to curb rampant abuse of these vehicles.

However, between last December and the end of September of this year, more than 4,800 cases were discovered involving officials who used government vehicles for private purposes or purchased excessively luxurious cars, according to statistics released on Monday.

The figure accounts for one third of nearly 15,000 cases of frugality guideline violations, which also include bans on government building projects, excessive spending on receptions, and unnecessary trips in China and abroad using public money.

Expenditures on government-funded vehicles, along with overseas trips and receptions, are traditionally held to be the three biggest sources of corruption and waste.

Although these vehicles are intended for official business, some officials use the cars to drop off children at school, attend wedding parties, and go shopping or traveling.

One city-level public procurator named Zhou Jianlin in Qinghai Province was found to have driven a police car to pay home visits in another province. Another public security official in Qinghai was punished for paying New Year calls by government car.

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

Some officials have been caught shielding vehicle plates or drunk driving while in government cars. In August of this year, four people were killed as Xu Jianping, a deputy head of the forestry bureau in east China's Nanchang City, drove an official car after drinking alcohol.

Car use creates more opportunities for corruption, as some will run up large bills for gasoline and so-called "repairs" to receive reimbursements from the government.

"It takes more than 800 yuan to pay all the fees," said a county-level official who was found to frequently drive a government car home during weekends. The payment was reimbursed by the government.

PRIVILEGES OF THE ELITE

Under the current system, different types of cars can be allocated to officials at certain levels. Ministry-level officials are usually equipped with Audi A6s, which are often regarded as symbols of high rank and privilege.

Some officials feel respected by their neighbors and relatives if they have access to government cars, said a discipline official who refused to be identified.

The common mentality indicates that bureaucratism and extravagance is still widespread in the society, he said.

The strict rules on the use of government vehicles set by the central authorities have turned out to be empty words due to weak implementation by local officials.

Some officials think they are able to use their influence and social connections to evade punishment, even if they are caught misusing government vehicles, said Li Zijing, deputy head of the discipline inspection authorities of Nanchang City.

ABOLITION

Misuse of government cars has triggered growing public outrage. When members of the public discover the misuse of government vehicles, which are identifiable by their license plates, many use their mobile phone cameras and post photographs of the corrupt behavior online.

In some cities, such as Foshan and Zhongshan in south China's Guangdong Province, government cars have been labeled clearly so that people in the street can easily identify them.

The labeling is low cost and easy for public supervision, Li said.

But experts and the public believe "corruption on wheels" cannot be eradicated unless the decades-old system of government vehicles is reformed.

According to a survey conducted recently by the China Youth Daily, more than 71 percent of respondents support abolition of vehicles for officials. "Government cars used for private purpose" and "reimbursement of private car expenses" are listed as the most common forms of corruption in the use of government vehicles.

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

China may have several million government cars, with the exact figure unknown. Although authorities have investigated the misuse of about 20,000 vehicles since April 2011, it is hard for discipline officials to monitor the use of each car, said Ye Qing, a political advisor in central China's Hubei Province.

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

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