Resistance at local level stalls property database

Delay in the initiative illustrates the difficulty Beijing faces in its anti-graft campaign

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 2:59am

The mainland's plan for a property database, once hailed as an antidote to corruption, has stalled amid resistance from local governments that illustrates the difficulty Beijing faces in driving through anti-graft reforms.

The database is not only seen as vital for authorities to control a frothy housing market, it would also force corrupt local officials to come clean about properties bought from ill-gotten gains, industry experts say.

President Xi Jinping has called corruption a threat to the Communist Party's survival but, as the failure of the property database initiative to gain traction shows, top-down plans to root out graft can be stymied by entrenched interests at the local level.

"There are various concerns over the possible consequences of the nationwide database, especially for some officials who have the power of affecting the process," said Chen Guoqiang, vice-chairman of China Real Estate Society. "They will delay such moves intentionally."

The database, which would enable users to see how many properties a person owns and details about the homes, has been in the works since 2010. It would also show additional property purchases by homeowners, which would aid the central government in cooling speculation in urban housing markets.

Although much of that information is already collected in some form by authorities, local officials have baulked at the idea of an easily searchable, central record of home purchases.

The first 40 major cities enlisted in the plan refused to sign on until the housing ministry agreed the information they disclosed would not be made publicly available, industry experts said.

"China must eventually make the database transparent," said Fan Jianjun, a senior economist at the Development Research Centre, one of the mainland's leading government think tanks. "Otherwise, how can people believe it?"

The second phase of the plan, which was supposed to be completed by June and include 500 more cities, has not yet come to fruition.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has not commented on the reason for the delay, but state media have blamed resistance from local officials.

"Hopes have crumbled to nothing again," Xinhua said in June. "Some local governments and departments are not collaborative."

The property database, despite its benefits for the housing market, presents a threat to officials trying to hide multiple luxury homes.

In recent months, mainland media has abounded with reports of local officials caught owning homes they could not possibly have bought on a meagre public servant's salary.

Cai Bin, an urban management official in Guangzhou, was sacked in October last year after investigators said he owned more than 20 homes, Xinhua reported, even though his official salary was only about 10,000 yuan (HK$12,625)) a month. He was found guilty of corruption charges in September and sentenced to 111/2 years in prison.

Some high-ranking central government officials have publicly voiced support for asset disclosure rules as necessary elements of Xi's fight against graft, including Wang Yang, one of four vice-premiers.

The mainland's only housing census was done in 1986 and its economic census in 2010 did not cover housing surveys. Neither will this year's economic census.