The central government issued a strongly worded ban yesterday prohibiting officials from taking publicly funded overseas trips or sightseeing junkets. In a circular jointly issued by the Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council, Beijing said the ban was aimed at protecting 'the positive image of the party and government' and maintaining social stability. 'Chiefs and heads at various levels of government must set themselves up as good examples, practise strict self-discipline and play a leading role ... in choosing not to organise or participate in overseas travel and sightseeing funded by public spending,' the decree said, according to Xinhua. The decree requires all overseas travel by officials to be strictly reviewed and states that under no circumstances can such trips be handed out as a bonus or reward. It also states that funds for overseas missions must be managed as a separate item in the government budget and put under close scrutiny. '[The ban] is meant to effectively uphold an excellent image of the party and government, and better unify and lead the people to cope with the impact and difficulties caused by the global financial crisis ... and push for social harmony and stability.' The ban came a day after the National People's Congress Standing Committee - the country's top official body - amended criminal laws to ban relatives or those who have close relations with government employees from taking bribes or seeking preferential government treatment. The new law not only targets family members of government officials but also their lovers, classmates and other acquaintances, and puts detailed curbs on 'power-for-money' transactions and financial crimes. Offenders in 'very serious cases' could face a minimum jail term of seven years under the amendment. In a separate development yesterday Vice-President Xi Jinping, addressing the opening ceremony of the spring semester of the Central Party School, urged party leaders to make efforts to improve their political integrity and competence. Mr Xi, also president of the school, said the party and the people were the key to coping with the impact of the global financial crisis, maintaining steady and relatively fast economic growth, and safeguarding social stability and harmony. President Hu Jintao has said the fight against corruption is linked to the survival of the ruling Communist Party and has pledged to curb official graft, which has become a source of widespread social dissatisfaction. The moves come amid preparations for the yearly meetings of the political elite in Beijing to discuss major policies and set agendas for the government. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top national advisory body, will start its annual session tomorrow. The meeting of the National People's Congress, or legislature, will start on Thursday. The events provide opportunities for the political elite from around the country to voice their views and lobby for preferential policies. The economy and maintaining social stability are the top issues to be discussed this year. Keeping rampant corruption in check would be crucial to the success of both. A survey conducted last week by various media revealed that corruption and social injustice were the number one source of public discontent.