Transparent budgets

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-03 14:23
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Premier Wen Jiabao's call for the central government to take the lead in practicing thrift points to the importance the top authorities have attached to the building of a clean and efficient government.

At a meeting on practicing frugality by central government departments on Tuesday, Wen sent the message that the spending on government overseas trips, procurement and maintenance of government vehicles, and public receptions must be further cut. He particularly emphasized the importance of institutional reform and supervision, stressing such work should never be just a formality.

It is 17 years since the State Council and Central Party Committee jointly issued regulations on the management of government cars in 1994. A new document was released early this year to further tighten control of government vehicles. The Ministry of Supervision announced recently that it would launch a campaign this year to overhaul the use of government vehicles, tighten control of government overseas trips and reform government receptions.

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The message is that the waste of public money by governments at all levels on overseas trips, government vehicles, and public receptions has become a scourge that erodes the government's credibility and cripples its capability to provide the services the people are entitled to.

Despite the strong determination central government leaders have shown, down-to-earth measures are definitely needed to supervise how every single department takes concrete action to reduce these expenditures.

Transparency should be at the heart of these actions. The public needs to know how much money a government department spends in these three areas.

Yet, up until now, only the Ministry of Science and Technology has fully disclosed its budget in these areas.

The work to cut government spending in these three areas is in danger of being a mere formality unless there is institutional reform that enforces the rules and requires governments at all levels to disclose how much they have spent on the three expenditures.

It is key that all central government departments make their spending in such areas transparent so their local counterparts follow suit. If possible, they should be made to give detailed explanations about their expenditures and how they are going to cut such spending.

That is the way to let the general public believe that the government is sincere and means what it says.

Hopefully, the action the Ministry of Supervision is taking will initiate thorough institutional reform, which will help establish a supervision system over all government spending. This system should make it impossible, or at least very difficult, for any government department and any ranking officials to squander public money at will.

That is how a government can be guaranteed to be clean and efficient.