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China to curb official privilege of free car use
Updated: 2004-02-28 11:16

As part of its efforts to fight corruption and cut government expenditures, China is considering reforming its current practice of free car use for government officials.

The central authorities are mapping out a detailed plan for effectively preventing officials from using government cars for private purposes while guaranteeing their transportation need for official reasons, said official sources in Beijing.

The most-favored measure is to sell most of the cars possessed by governments at all levels and pay monthly transportation subsidies to the officials.

A large number of officials and even ordinary civil servants now enjoy the privilege of free use of government cars. Official statistics showed that there were more than 3.5 million governmentcars in service at the end of the 1990s.

The government spending on keeping these cars and their drivers,which added up to 72 billion yuan (US$8.77 billion) between 1991 and 1995, had soared to about 300 billion yuan (US$36.51 billion) a year at the end of last century.

A 2003 survey among residents of seven major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou showed that over 95 percent of the respondents supported an immediate reform of government car use.

According to media reports, some local governments have taken the lead to introduce such a reform. The Nanchang District Government of Wuxi City in east China's booming coastal province of Jiangsu had auctioned off all its cars and started to pay transportation subsidies to its officials.

In Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, the local government also formulated detailed rules for government caruse. According to the rules, all government cars must be domestic-made and in county-level governments each car shall be shared by 15 civil servants.

To impose a tight control over car users, the rules also require all government cars be purchased from designated sellers and go to designated service centers and gas stations for maintenance and refueling.

While generally welcomed by the public, these reform measures were also questioned by some citizens and scholars.

"How could you recruit all those former government car drivers as civil servants after the reform?" asked a Wuxi citizen in a letter of complaint to the municipal government. "They are not qualified to be civil servants at all."

Mao Shoulong, a professor with the Beijing-based Chinese People's University, noted that after the reform, some officials could get 3,000 to 4,000 yuan (US$350 to 500) in transportation subsidies, even higher than their monthly salaries.

"I think many ordinary people will find it hard to accept this," he said.

Moreover, as traffic conditions vary in different cities and officials of different ranks enjoy different car use standards, itis almost impossible for the central authorities to set a unified subsidy standard to be applied nationwide, Mao added.

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