Lawyer questions legality of Shanghai licence plate auctions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 December, 2010, 12:00am

A Shanghai-based lawyer has questioned the legality of the municipal government's controversial car licence plate auctions, which rake in 4 billion yuan (HK$4.69 billion) a year but for which financial results have never been published.

Si Weijiang , a seasoned lawyer in administrative lawsuits, asked Shanghai's No 2 Intermediate People's Court yesterday to cancel a notice by the Shanghai government and instead require the authorities to publicise the legal documents supporting the city's monthly vehicle licence plate auction system.

Si applied to the Shanghai government on June 24 for access to the legal documents and received a reply sent by the government on July 15 that read: 'After investigation [we find that] what you are inquiring about is information the government should release publicly. The relevant laws include the People's Republic of China Road Traffic Safety Law and the Auction Law of the PRC. They are already on the website of the National People's Congress and we suggest you log on to its website to check.'

The court did not reach a verdict yesterday. 'I haven't found any clauses in these two national laws to sustain Shanghai's [car plate] auction. Ironically the two laws serve as a veto against the auction system,' Si said at yesterday's hearing.

The road law allows for vehicle registration at public security and transport authorities but makes no mention of registration quota limits or the need to auction licence plates.

The other law only governs auction activities, with nothing specifically related to the plate auction.

Si also showed an administrative consideration file handed to him by the Ministry of Transport in May last year, which said Shanghai's plate auction fell under a local regulation made by the local government. 'Apparently these two agencies are kicking the ball to each other. One of their two answers must be false,' he said.

Si said he did not expect to win the case as 'it's impossible for a court to hand down a judgment against the government on the mainland'. But he hoped it would spur the government to legislate on the release of such information as soon as possible

In 1994, Shanghai introduced the car plate auction to 'limit the number of cars on roads and ease congestion'. The only mainland city to embrace such a system, it puts around 8,000 plates under the hammer each month, and has made about 35,000 yuan on each licence since 2004.

But Shanghai still remains one of the most seriously congested cities on the mainland. This year, plates were sold for between 45,000 yuan and a surprisingly low 10,000 yuan this month. The most recent auction result caused uproar, with many asking whether there is independent supervision of the system.

Mayor Han Zheng said earlier that balance-sheet details would be publicised, without saying when.