The Railways Ministry has found itself in hot water again, with the National Audit Office's latest report on government spending saying it spent 18.5 million yuan (HK$22.7 million) on a promotional video without going through proper public tendering.
The video, Chinese Railways, was directed by the mainland's most famous film director, Zhang Yimou, and played at the opening of the 7th World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Beijing in December 2010.
The five-minute film was meant to showcase China's railway development but after the audit report was released on Tuesday it was criticised for its terrible standard and high cost. It is just the latest of a series of setbacks for the ministry since the downfall of former minister Liu Zhijun last year.
'The ministry must be kidding me. My six-year-old daughter could make a better film with that amount of money,' one frequently forwarded microblog comment read.
A woman who used to work as a video editor at the Ministry of Railways' media centre told the South China Morning Post that most of the video was shot and edited by the centre and another private production company in Beijing. 'We spent many years getting those shots. I would say we did more than 95 per cent of the film,' she said. 'The railways ministry just wanted to use Zhang's name so that they could justify that they had spent the money correctly.'
Qin Lixin, the deputy manager of Zhang's Beijing New Picture Film company, said he was not aware of the matter.
Han Yi, an independent documentary maker, said: 'I believe some of the shots in the film would have taken quite a long time to capture ... maybe one or two years.'
Zhang's most recent movie, The Flowers of War, took more than five months to shoot, according to the movie's official website.
The audit office said the ministry spent a huge amount of money to make the promotional video without going through the correct tender processes and the video had 'failed to meet expectations'.
A spokesman for the National Audit Office declined to explain what those expectations were. The ministry's tender process for construction of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was also found to have been shortened from the regular five days to just 13 hours, the audit report said.
The ministry has been criticised for corruption and non-transparent management. The pace of high-speed rail expansion slowed sharply last year after a decade of rapid growth under Liu. He was sacked in February last year and placed under investigation for corruption. He was expelled from the Communist Party last month.