Opinion / Editorials

Reform requires resolve

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-18 08:07

That an operational reform plan for government vehicles has finally been announced and deadlines set is surely worth celebration. It is an inspiring first step toward plugging the gigantic loophole that has been a notorious source of waste, corruption, and public discontent.

That it has taken the authorities 20 years to come up with a roadmap covering all imaginable contingencies, however, shows the magnitude of the resistance the reform has faced. The use of special government vehicles has long been a sign of authority and privilege in Chinese officialdom. So all levels of officials have their own ways to get around set rules to secure access to such a privilege.

The purchase, operation and maintenance of government vehicles results in an astronomical expense of public money. Each year, 300 billion yuan ($49 billion) of taxpayers' money is spent on official vehicles, according to a widely quoted estimate.

In 2013, the Communist Party of China and government institutions at the national level reportedly spent 7.2 billion yuan on vehicles, receptions and overseas trips, of this almost 4.3 billion yuan or nearly 60 percent, was spent on vehicles.

The latest roadmap, if carried out to the letter, may result in a dramatic cut in such expenses, because it aims to wean the majority of public officials from government vehicles. In contrast to the current practice of each institution supporting a number of vehicles, officials will receive a monthly transport allowance to finance their everyday transport needs. Based on the 300-billion-yuan estimate, it has been estimated that more than 150 billion yuan of public money will be saved each year.

Decision-makers at the top seem determined to press ahead with this difficult reform. And many share the belief that this is a harbinger of more substantial reform moves.

However, although both the details of the reform and deadlines deliver signs of resolve, it remains unclear how far they will go.

The most forceful moves are at this point targeted at central institutions only. Yet even at the central level, plenty of leeway has been left for exceptions.

A top-down approach is supposed to yield exemplary effects at the local level. To what extent the new rules are honored at the national level will directly affect how well they are implemented in the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

We have seen before ambitious reform plans compromised and reduced in practice. For this one, the public demands a difference.

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