Car owners return extra subsidies

Updated: 2011-11-18 07:57

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The municipal government reclaimed more than 3 million yuan ($472,000) from vehicle owners since early October. The money was handed out as extra subsidies by mistake to car owners who scrapped their old vehicles.

It is estimated that an extra amount of nearly 7 million yuan was mistakenly handed out to more than 1,700 vehicle owners in the capital city, due to "negligence of work staff".

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau was giving away a government subsidy between 2,500 yuan and 14,500 yuan, since early August, to motorists who scrapped their clunkers that were at least six years old. This was a bid to improve the city's air quality and stimulate the flagging auto market.

However, China Beijing Environment Exchange, which ran the program, claimed it had mistakenly doubled the subsidy to more than 1,700 drivers, i.e. given away about 7 million yuan more than scheduled.

"I haven't received the extra subsidy yet but I heard of some lucky guys who had," said Li Chun, who traded his private car and received a subsidy of 4,000 yuan in September.

However, Wang Guannan, spokesman for the exchange, said she had not heard of the erroneous transaction so far, despite some car markets claiming that they have been receiving motorists coming to turn in the extra subsidy since early October.

"We received more than 300 vehicle owners so far and five to six are coming every day even now," said Cai Haiyuan, vice-general manager of the Beijing Yayuncun Automobile Exchange Market.

According to Cai, most of the candidates were minibus owners who received some 9,000 yuan, double of what they should have received according to the standard set by the environmental protection bureau.

Cai said he was not sure who was responsible for the mistake but suspected that the bank was not cooperating well with the China Beijing Environment Exchange and thus paid the subsidy twice over to the drivers.

The exchange has set up a team to collect the amount mistakenly given away as subsidies, according to Cai. The team will go to a vehicle owner's house to recover the money back if the latter did not have the time to come to the exchange.

"Otherwise, the exchange has to resort to legal means to call in the money," Cai added.

"The extra money paid is clarified as unjust enrichment and is thus not protected by the law," said Yi Shenghua, a Beijing-based lawyer with Ying Ke Law Firm. "It's illegal if the motorists refuse to return it to the government."

However, Yi said, whoever was responsible for the mistake, be it the bank or the exchange, would still need to compensate the car owners for their possible economic losses, like delay of work and bank transaction fees.

"The mistake has not only ruined the credibility of the government, but also caused a lot of trouble for the citizens," said Yi.

China Daily

(China Daily 11/18/2011 page4)