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County vows to regulate freebies for officials

2010-06-23 11:54

TAIYUAN - Authorities of the UNESCO-listed world heritage site ancient city in North China's Shanxi province vowed on Saturday to reform its reception system for officials, following media coverage of how providing free hospitality to officials from across the country has pushed the tourist city into the red.

Pingyao, a county-level city renowned for its well-preserved ancient city wall, has been paying the expenses of up to 100,000 official visitors a year on free sightseeing trips, which have cost the county 12 million yuan ($1.7 million) in ticket revenue each year, the Chengdu Business Daily reported last Thursday.

These visitors are officials at different levels across China, who say they are visiting Pingyao on official public duty. They are given free admission to the tourist sites along with free lodging and meals, the report said.

About 12,600 visited the city during the past Dragon Boat Festival. More than 2,000 of them, mostly officials, got in for free, it said.

"Local authorities are working on a better and more scientific reception system," Liu Guohong, publicity director of the county's Party committee, told China Daily on Sunday.

The detailed measures to tighten regulation will be made public later, he said.

"Authorities will learn from other tourist sites' experiences, revise present plans, eliminate loopholes and step up supervision to further standardize the government reception mechanism," he quoted a decision made on Saturday at a meeting held by the county Party committee, county government, and county branches of the People's Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

About 400 ancient buildings in the city need repairs, but preservation efforts have been postponed due to lack of money, and part of the ancient walls even collapsed, an unnamed senior official of the ancient city's administrative commission was quoted by the newspaper, adding that there existed a 2 billion yuan financial gap for protection of the ancient city.

But Liu denied that the free reception for officials has caused any great financial pressure.

Local government took measures several years ago to lower the expense of receiving official visitors, whose numbers dropped from 100,000 to 40,000 last year. But the local authority has never made public the information about expenses, the report said

Li Chengyan, a professor on anti-corruption from the school of government at Peking University, told China Daily that Chinese officials' travel expenditure under the name of public business could exceed 200 billion yuan a year, based on his conservative estimate.

"Many local governments, especially those of big cities or at tourist sites like Pingyao, have been under tremendous financial pressure by offering free reception to officials from various government agencies," he said, adding that a single move from a local government cannot change the whole system.

Government agencies have become accustomed to enjoying free travel under the guise of official business, which actually is a universal phenomenon of corruption, he said.

"To solve the problem and prevent corruption, central authorities should lay down a law, stipulating that the budget expenditure - in terms of civil servants' business trip, use of car and hosting guests - must be made public every year," he said.

An accountability system and an independent supervisory mechanism also should be followed, he said.

However, the professor admitted the financial burden of local governments will not be eased anytime soon, as central authorities have no plans to release the budget expense in the near future, he said.

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