Underground clubs trigger calls for greater transparency on official spending

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 5:31pm

State-run China Central Television (CCTV) has exposed widespread underground wining and dining by government officials, prompting calls for greater transparency on sangong expenditure – spending by government officials on overseas visits, the purchase and maintenance of government vehicles, and receptions and meetings.

CCTV found government officials were frequenting private clubs hidden deep under public parks and concealed by old temples to indulge in expensive meals, despite President Xi Jinping’s drive to curb extravagance and crack down on corruption.

“We have entertained many officials here,” a staff member of one restaurant boasted to a CCTV reporter. The average expenditure per person at the restaurant was 1,680 yuan (HK$2,109), she said, but that price could rise to 6,000 yuan depending on what dishes were ordered.

The CCTV programme showed government-owned vehicles parked outside several high-end restaurants in Beijing. While some had their number plates covered up or removed, their official entry passes revealed the identities of their owners.

The impact of Xi’s austerity drive, launched late last year, on the nation’s luxury goods market can already be seen. Prices of traditional Chinese liquor such as Maotai and Wuliangye, once favoured by officials, have plunged about 30 per cent.

But in order to curb extravagance and fight corruption in the long term, scholars have urged party leaders to institutionalise the drive.

“Without stable, restricted and executable rules, the common officials’ practice of wining and dining on public expenses would revive,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

He said the anti-corruption measures needed to be more specific. “There ought to be specific procedures that are executable and correction measures to solve problems.”

Liu Xiaobing, Deputy Principal of the School of Public Economics & Administration at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said there was still a long way to go before spending by officials was made public.

According to an earlier study led by Liu, only 17 of the nation’s 31 provinces had published sangong expenditure figures.

Sangong expenditure has long come under fire as corrupt officials have often been shown to enjoy lavish lifestyles supported by official expense accounts.

Last month, a Ministry of Finance official denied that China’s sangong expenditure had reached 900 billion yuan. But the government’s refusal to make public the exact amount has drawn public condemnation.

“It is only a matter of willingness,” Liu said, when asked what obstacles the government faced in terms of increasing transparency.