GOVERNMENT

Subsidies replace official cars for cadres below deputy-minister level

Curbs on use of government vehicles part of attempts to rein in extravagant or excessive spending by some civil servants and officials

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 9:31am

Central government officials of all ranks below deputy minister won't be allowed to commute in government-owned cars next year after Beijing unveiled new curbs on the use of official vehicles. Instead, they will be given a transport subsidy.

The Communist Party and government jointly issued directives on reforming the use of official cars yesterday, state media reported.

The directives promised to cancel use of official vehicles other than for emergencies and law enforcement within the central government by the end of the year.

Civil servants will be given transport subsidies ranging from 500 yuan (HK$630) to 1,300 yuan a month instead, the directives said.

Officials at deputy-minister rank or above are exempt from the reforms.

The mainland has about 1.8 million government vehicles, according to Zhu Lijia, a professor of public policy at the Chinese Academy of Governance and who took part in the consultations on the reforms.

It remains unclear how many will be scrapped under the new directives.

"The spending on official cars could shrink 30 per cent to 50 per cent," Zhu said.

Policy advisers and political observers have long called on the government to rein in excessive spending on official cars, which has been criticised by some sections of the public.

Previous attempts by the central government to cut back on the number of official cars have failed, as the reform plans were not detailed or pragmatic enough to be implemented, Zhu said.

Unused cars will go to public auctions, with all the cash turned over to the state treasury, the directives said.

About 5,000 official cars will be sold at auction by the end of the year by the central government, according to state television.

Drivers who lose their posts in the government due to the reforms should be assigned to other duties or granted early retirement, according to the directives.

They also called on local governments to roll out detailed schemes to phase out their use of official cars by the end of 2015.

Local officials will get transport subsidies of no more than 1,690 yuan a month.

Some commentators said the directives showed the central government's resolve to curb graft and extravagant spending, but added they would be hard, if not impossible, to fully implement.

"The reform 'moves the cheese' of the mainland's largest interest group [officials]," Yang Decai, a professor at Nanjing University, said on social media.

Luo Changping, an outspoken mainland reporter, suggested that all government cars should be clearly marked with red number plates so the public could monitor their use and allow greater oversight.