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Downsizing Officialdom in China

Power and perks of office are the hallmark of leaders and officialdom and transcend boundaries. Those in India who are looking to curtail privilege and end the VIP syndrome might look at some recent examples from China.

In 2014, guidelines were introduced in China stipulating new rules for use of government vehicles. Such vehicles can only be used for special services (e.g. intelligence communication and emergencies) and not for regular government affairs. Officials below ministerial level would no longer be provided with a car and a driver. They would instead be provided with a transport allowance to cover transportation costs – about RMB1,300 (approx 209 U.S. dollars) per month at the central level and RMB 1690 at the local level The common practice of using government vehicles for private purposes, is now considered "corruption on wheels". These guidelines became applicable to the central government the same year and the local-level governments were given a year to implement the guidelines. The Chinese media has reported that some three thousand vehicles have been impounded over the last year and four hundred auctioned off to the public in two lots in the last two months with monies received going to the treasury.

China’s Finance Ministry, it has been reported, has reduced the allocation for purchase and maintenance of government vehicles. In 2014, it was RMB 4.127 billion (approx USD 660 million) – RMB 126 million less than in 2013. The aim is to cut expenditure on this head by half over a period of time.

As always with new policies, questions are being raised about how the government will ensure that the vehicles are disposed off to the best advantage of the public and not become yet another source of underhand dealing through collusion and corruption in the auction process. At the other end, there is the issue of whether the proposed transport allowances are considered sufficient to cover costs. The officials obviously do not think so and are holding out prospects of cutting down on meetings which might well affect decision making on issues of public importance.

In another instance, in Central Hunan, an official has been removed from her post for rolling out the red carpet during an annual event as it was felt that this symbolizes VIP treatment. This was despite her plea that the surface was wet and the carpet prevented slipping.

It will take time to get such ideas accepted and make them work. But the attempt to get rid of the VIP culture could be made a part of the “Learn from Each Other” exchanges between India and China.

(VIF China Studies Centre) 18 March 2015

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