The new mainland leadership is taking the first step towards building a cleaner and more efficient civil service by introducing - among other things - pay reforms. The government has launched pilot schemes in four medium-sized cities to test the feasibility of the proposal. Two schemes are being implemented in the cities of Foshan and Shenzhen in Guangdong, and the other two are in the Yangtze River Delta's Pudong and Ningbo. As well as overcoming pay deficiencies, the reforms are aimed at curbing corruption and matching wages across departments. Officials hope the move can provide an impetus for reforms in areas such as recruitment and anti-corruption plans, such as the introduction of open tenders in public procurement, public audits and judicial reforms. Foshan was the final city to join the reform experiment. The People's Congress in Foshan has approved a 10-million-yuan (HK$9.43 million) budget to raise the income of township chiefs. According to Ren Jianming, deputy director of the corruption control studies office at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of the main problems is the lack of pay difference among officials of different ranks. 'The salary difference between the premier and a township chief is only about four times,' Professor Ren said. Low pay not only made it difficult for civil servants to survive but it created an incentive for officials to supplement their income through subsidies or other unofficial means. He said it was also a primary cause of China's rampant corruption. Professor Ren said an 'average' county chief could easily earn about 200,000 yuan in perks such as expenses in transport and hospitality. Since these expenses were entirely at the cadres' own discretion, they inevitably encouraged waste and carried with them conflict of interest concerns. 'The state, in reality, is not just paying a civil servant his wages but all the direct and indirect expenses of his immediate family and relatives incurred if the particular civil servant is of the rank to make these [expenditure] decisions,' he said. It also was hoped that by raising the incomes of officials, cadres would have less incentive to abuse their power, such as slapping unreasonable fines on individuals. It was common - especially among rural cadres - to impose penalties on individuals to subsidise their income. Professor Ren said jealousy also played a part in inter-ministry and local government politics. 'The difference in incomes of officials of the same rank but in different ministries or provinces can be as much as three times,' he said. Such disparity led to grudges among the civil servants. He said the low pay of civil servants prevented the central government from implementing other reforms. Many government departments were resisting central government initiatives to introduce a checks-and-balances system because they feared such change would limit their opportunity to earn extra income. Pamela Mar, the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's associate director for China, welcomed the pilot schemes but said more was needed. 'It is excellent that China realises the benefits of improving governance and reducing corruption,' she said. 'These remain among the few elements constantly raised in business surveys as obstacles to the business environment and competitiveness.' Ms Mar said the government needed to implement other reforms, such as the provision of public access to information and diversity and freedom in the media. She also urged the government to introduce a system of checks and balances in its administration and establish a legal framework to enshrine property rights. 'It's not simply the issue of paying higher salaries. All elements must progress in order for China to conquer corruption,' Ms Mar said.