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Anti-corruption campaign changes Chinese life

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-12-09 09:52

BEIJING - Ma Huisen used to have four or five lunches a day, though not because he was gluttonous, but because officials were taking advantage.

"We received many officials coming for 'inspection,'" said the vice Party chief of Ulagan county, western China's Qinghai province. By "inspection" he actually means "travelling."

The salt lake in Ulagan county is a popular tourist attraction, and it receives many groups of visiting officials every day. To show their hospitality, local officials would once accompany them on their entire journey. After the initiation of China's anti-corruption campaign, featuring the "Eight-point Rules," launched December 2012, Ma felt relieved.

"We don't have to drink so much liquor and spend so much time chatting around the dinner table," he said. "Now we can focus on improving people's livelihoods."

Friday is International Anti-Corruption Day, four days after the fourth anniversary of the release of the "Eight-point Rules". The rules, aimed at curbing extravagance and improving officials' work style, ban red carpet official receptions, the use of public vehicles for private affairs, pro forma meetings and traffic disturbances such as road closures for officials, and order austerity in official meals, travel and housing.

Many Chinese, civil servants and ordinary people saw changes in their daily lives.

Hu Xianmin (a pseudonym) has been working as a driver in a government department in northern China's Shanxi province for 16 years. He did not need to buy his own car until 2014.

"We once took pride in being able to use public vehicles," he said. In 2003 when his nephew was admitted into a university, he drove him to Beijing in a public vehicle..

Now all public vehicles in his department have been installed with GPS. Every evening the vehicles must be driven back to the garage.

"In the past when we went to the counties, local government officials gave us local specialties as gifts," Hu said. "Now we dare not receive such gifts. Those who violates the 'Eight-point Rules' will receive a public warning."

Zhang Xiaofeng, inspection officer with the party discipline commission in eastern China's Shandong province, has been involved in the province's discipline investigation of 19,235 civil servants, 8,583 of which were given discipline punishments since the start of the thrift campaign.

Chinese are known for cherishing their personal image.

"We found that naming discipline offenders in public is a harsh penalty for civil servants, and is effective in preventing others from the same wrongdoings," the discipline officer said.

During the past four years, expenditure on public vehicles dropped from 4.4 billion yuan ($639.5 million) a year to 3 billion yuan, according to the Communist Party of China's (CPC) anti-graft agency.

Nearly 200,000 Party and government staff had been punished for violating the rules in the past four years, with many holding senior positions.

These people were involved in more than 146,400 cases, about a quarter of which involved use of public vehicles and dining out on public funds, the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said.

An unnamed owner of a high-end restaurant in Hefei, capital of eastern China's Anhui province, told Xinhua that his business suffered difficulties following the regulation, because few officials dared to feast at his restaurant. The restaurant now has a buffet.

Sun Liqing, Party chief with the Dinggang community of Hefei, attends fewer meetings than before.

"I have been working in the community level for nearly 30 years, and I know that in the past we needed to attend numerous meetings," he said. "Efficiency has been greatly improved."

"In the past four years, officials' working style has changed," said Xin Ming, a professor with the CPC Party School of the Central Committee.

"It is a good beginning for strict governance of the Party," he said.

In spite of the achievements, the anti-corruption campaign is not all plain sailing.

Zhao Xiaofeng in Shandong now feels his work is getting more and more difficult, as grassroots officials have become very cautious when tempted to profiteer from the power given by their posts.

Discipline inspectors have had to trace lavish banquets from hotels and private clubs, and records of them happening mysteriously disappear. License plates of government vehicles are covered with private license numbers when the cars are in private use.

Inspectors have found more than 930 fake license plates on government vehicles since 2014.

"The anti-corruption drive must maintain high pressure. More sophisticated discipline inspection measures should be used to fight new types of corruption," he said.

"The campaign has lasted for four years," said Ma Huisen. "How we maintain momentum is a problem that everyone is facing."

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