The State Council's decision to introduce a reform this year to regulate the use of government cars suggests the central government's determination to tackle the problem, which has long been seen as one of the biggest sources of waste and corruption.
The State Council made the decision at its Friday's meeting on the fight against corruption. As the second decision within a week relating to the fight against corruption, it reminds us of Premier Wen Jiabao's words at a press conference following the annual session of the National People's Congress early this month: "Corruption is where the biggest danger lies."
The recent decisions to disclose central government spending on government cars, overseas trips at public expense and government banquets, as well as this proposed reform of the system for the use of government cars, send a clear message that the government means to address the danger.
In addition to investigations and crackdowns on abuse of power by particular officials, it is necessary for the anti-graft campaign to make a breakthrough somewhere and this reform is probably the right place.
It is estimated that the total number of government cars used by officials is more than 2 million nationwide and the annual spending on such vehicles is between 150 to 200 billion yuan ($23-30 billion). Many people believe that the cars purchased and maintained at public expense are mostly used for private purposes and that the maintenance of these vehicles means public money flows into car repair plants and the pockets of drivers.
Such a reform has been debated for many years. Some local governments have launched reforms of their own, canceling government cars and issuing traffic subsidies to government officials instead. However, some of these reforms have been another way for officials to increase their wages. In one instance, at least, the subsidy
for ranking government officials is nearly 100,000 yuan a year.
For government officials, it is a matter of personal interest, so reform is hard, as very few officials are willing to lose the perks they have enjoyed for years. In addition, at both the central level and local level, it is government officials who are beneficiaries of the system that made the reform plans.
Premier Wen Jiabao said at the NPC press conference that conditions must be created to allow the general public to criticize and supervise the government if their grievances are to be addressed.
In the reform of government car use, conditions should be created for the general public to oversea how much the government spends in this respect and how such cars are used.
For example, if traffic subsidies are given to officials, the general public should have a channel to determine that the number of government cars has been considerably reduced and so has the spending.
The reform plan is eagerly awaited.