Wenzhou car reform stirs controversy

Updated: 2012-07-14 13:11

By Yu Ran in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Wenzhou car reform stirs controversy

Officials address public concern that selling prices were too low

The recent reform on government cars use in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, raised questions about officials benefiting from the changes, while the officials insist that they are trying to cut down expenses.

A series of regulations were issued in April to reform the use of government cars in the city. The regulations include holding auctions for used cars, issuing transportation allowances for officials who don't use government cars and allowing a car rental company to supply rental services to public servants. About 1,400 government cars are being sold through six auctions held by local auction agencies until the end of the year.

However, even after the reform, the transportation allowance for senior officials in the city was found to be the highest in the country, which is raising eyebrows.

"The municipal government spent about 144 million yuan ($22.6 million) on the use of government cars for last year excluding the drivers' salaries," said Chen Bo, director of the municipal vehicle reform department in Wenzhou.

Chen said that he now uses public transportation instead of a government car.

He added that government expenses are expected to be down about 15 percent after the reform.

The average transportation subsidy for an official at the division level is 2,800 yuan a month.

"It's incredible that a senior official needs to spend nearly 3,000 yuan on transportation in a small city as most of the government officials normally stay in their offices for meetings," said Wenzhou resident Wu Xiaocheng.

Officials said the transportation subsidies vary depending on the officials' ranks.

"Although the highest allowance is 3,100 yuan per month, which represents 20 percent of total officials, there is also the lowest point, which is 300 yuan," Chen said.

Chen added that the reform will be monitored by the department to ensure that every official follows the rules.

A total of 215 vehicles were sold at an auction held on June 24 - the first time that vehicles used by officials were put on auction since the release of the policy.

The cars were sold for more than 10 million yuan, with an average price of about 50,000 yuan.

Addressing public doubts that the selling prices were too low, Lin Bonan, the director of Wenzhou Property Trades Auction Co Ltd, one of the companies holding the auctions, said that 31 percent of the cars were used for about 10 years.

Lin added that the second auction, which took place on July 1, sold 205 vehicles and that the third auction will be held on July 22.

The auctions are open to the public but only 1,000 people are allowed at each auction.

Attendants have to pay 10,000 yuan for a deposit, which will be refunded if the person doesn't buy any car.

"Notices are posted on local newspapers and second-hand car websites about a week before each auction to invite applicants from anywhere to take part," said Lin.

Meanwhile, to support the reform, a car rental company owned by the Wenzhou Transportation Group, a State-owned transportation company, was appointed to supply rental services for government officials.

"Our company was assigned to guarantee that all the senior officials in the city are able to rent cars for important meetings, events, and emergency use," said Yang Yan, the legal representative of the company.

Yang said that his company is also allowed to offer rental services to the public after meeting the demands from the officials.

Experts said that the reform still needs some time to work and that it is necessary to convince the public step by step.

"Although the reform has been the target of criticism and doubts from the public, the series of regulations should be recognized as a determined move of the city to adjust the behavior of government officials," said Gou Yannan, a professor from the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai-based Fudan University.

Gou said that detailed plans should be better publicized to let everyone know that the government is trying to reduce the expenses.