It's a matter of privilege

Updated: 2014-07-28 07:40

By Mao Shoulong (China Daily)

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The current government vehicle reform is a compromise that does not address the fundamental issue of power

Chinese governments at all levels have introduced many different models to solve the problems related to government vehicles and their use, since the number of vehicles, the expenditure on them and who qualifies to have one are all out of control. In reality, government vehicles are used not only for work, but also by the officials and drivers for private purposes, hence the money spent on government vehicles continues to escalate.

To deal with the excessive number of government vehicles, the authorities should strictly stipulate the requirements to be met before an official is offered a government vehicle and strictly control the quantity, engine displacement and price of these vehicles. The authorities should also strengthen the regulations covering the use of government vehicles.

However, these measures are hard to implement in reality, which explains why the out-of-control situation still exists at present.

Some local governments have started reforms to control their overall expenditure on government vehicles and to reduce the number of official vehicles. They have generally set the goal of zero growth based on past expenditure and introduced transport subsidies for officials according to their administrative rank. This method can effectively control the number of government vehicles and makes it easier to control the overall expenditure on government vehicles. And with the country's rapid economic growth and a certain degree of inflation, zero growth in the expenditure on government vehicles is equal to saving money. Such reform also faces comparatively less resistance because it doesn't touch on vested interests.

Nevertheless, it does not address the core issue fueling the out-of-control government car situation in the eyes of the public, which is privilege. That's why reform models that fail to address privilege arouse widespread public criticism as they are regarded as granting permission for officials to enjoy privileges. Because of this criticism, some reform models have begun to lower the expenditure on government vehicles. The central government's new reform plan, announced early this month, sets comparatively lower subsidy levels than those of many local governments. A departmental-level official will only receive a subsidy of 1,300 yuan ($209), which is remarkably lower than the actual benefits he or she would get under the original government vehicle system. If a departmental-level official purchases a 180,000 yuan new car, the annual expenditure on maintenance, petrol and parking will probably be 18,000 yuan a year. A monthly subsidy of 1,300 yuan is not enough to cover the monthly expenditures on car, not to mention such things as damage and depreciation.

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