Government and Policy

Ministries' budgets lack detailed data

By Li Yao (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-07-02 08:22
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Beijing - Central government agencies spent 9.47 billion yuan ($1.46 billion) in 2010 on publicly financed vehicles, official receptions and overseas trips, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The bulk of the spending, 6.17 billion yuan, went to purchasing vehicles and transportation expenses, 1.77 billion yuan was spent on overseas travel and 1.53 billion yuan on receptions, the Beijing Times reported on Friday, quoting the Ministry of Finance's report of China's 2010 financial accounts.

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This first public report of such data by the finance ministry follows the State Council's call in March for ministries to trim spending on vehicles, transportation and foreign travel and publicly release their budget plans before June.

Government spending on cars, trips and banquets has long been criticized as a major source of corruption and waste in government departments.

On April 14, the Ministry of Science and Technology publicized its 2011 budget, which earmarked 40 million yuan for government cars, receptions and overseas trips.

Since April 1, many ministries and central government organizations, such as the finance and agriculture ministries, have also released annual budgets. But no others have released spending on cars, trips and banquets.

That information was also missing in the 2010 budgets released by the 74 ministries and organizations under the central government.

The publication of the Ministry of Science and Technology's budget was seen as a step toward greater transparency, but one that still fell short by not detailing how the money would be distributed.

Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said credit should be given to China's steady efforts to make its financial accounts and budget implementation accessible and accountable to the public.

However, what mattered most was not merely a sum of the total expenses, but detailed accounts, down to the specific purchase or trip paid by taxpayers' money, Zhu said.

He also recommended that prior audits should be conducted by an independent party to give more credibility to the official data released in government agencies' financial accounts.

The 40 million yuan the Ministry of Science and Technology earmarked for vehicles, banquets and overseas travel accounts for less than 0.2 percent of the 23.7 billion yuan it received from the central government in 2011. That percentage is much lower than what is popularly estimated and gives rise to public suspicion, Zhu said.

Yu Shuyi, a researcher at the institute of finance and trade economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also said people need more detailed accounts to see how many separate expenses make up the total.

To address public worry about corruption and excessive spending on vehicles, banquets and travel, it is crucial to ensure that officials spend taxpayers' money responsibly on meaningful projects, she said.

On March 25, Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a speech in an anti-corruption meeting, emphasizing that the government will curtail the foreign trips and reform the official car usage.

At the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee in March, more than 200 lawmakers and political advisers proposed that government spending plans should be made public, especially those involving official cars, overseas trips and banquets.