Beijing targets 'corruption on wheels' to stem public anger
Public anger at wasteful spending on official vehicles has become so intense that a meeting of the Communist Party Politburo chaired by General Secretary Hu Jintao yesterday identified it as one of the focuses for next year's anti-corruption drive.
The mainland's huge fleet of official cars - more than five million of them - not only clogs the roads but is expensive to maintain. And they are often used by officials for personal errands, taking up even more road space. An impatient motorist stuck on Beijing's clogged Changan Avenue is likely to be surrounded by a sea of government vehicles.
'[This campaign] will concentrate on some of the pressing issues the public feels strongly about to fight corruption,' the Politburo said in a directive released via Xinhua, though it did not offer a detailed plan.
Professor Wang Yukai , from the Chinese Academy of Governance, which specialises in training officials, says it costs at least 400 billion yuan (HK$470 billion) a year to maintain the official fleet, with each vehicle costing 60,000 to 80,000 yuan a year for fuel, maintenance and pay for drivers.
Research commissioned by the State Council and led by the Chinese Public Administration Research Association reached a similar conclusion after a half-year survey in Anhui , Jiangsu and Henan provinces this year.
And that bill does not include the cost of buying the vehicles. Most central government agencies in Beijing use black Audi 6s or Audi 6As, which cost more than 300,000 yuan each. The cap on car purchases for central-level ministries is 450,000 yuan per car and 250,000 yuan for each general government vehicle.
A joint investigation by the party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection and the National Audit Office found there were 5.22 million official vehicles, including two million owned by government departments and the rest under various government affiliated organisations by the end of November 2007.
Wang said that that was the most up-to-date official figure he could find but the figure would certainly be higher now.
A fifth of the official cars run on the capital's roads, Wang said, which means they comprise something like a fifth of the traffic in Beijing.
Calling the abuse of official vehicles 'corruption on wheels', Wang said the Politburo had to take action because it would lead to social tension if the problem dragged on.
'Abuse of government vehicles is getting out of control because they have increasingly become a privilege for some elites,' he said. 'Even some township officials are now having their own cars paid for by public money, although they are not at all entitled to such benefits under government regulations.'
Many internet users expressed their anger at the huge official vehicle fleet after the Beijing municipal government announced it would cap the number of new licence plates at 240,000 next year - just a third of this year's car sales - in a desperate move to stop congestion from worsening. A total of 9,000 cars were bought in the capital on December 23, the day before the new quota came into effect.
Previous attempts by some local governments to reduce the number of official cars yielded little result.
Tsinghua University professor Ren Jianming said the wrong rationale was being applied, with the government 'asking the people to initiate measures to cut their own benefits'.