Outcry over flats sold to officials at low prices

Government officials in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, sparked a public outcry after a list naming those who purchased 94 flats at below-market prices was revealed on the internet.

The list said the flats had been sold to city officials as well as 'internal staff' at prices of about 8,000 yuan (HK$9,100) per square metre between 2004 and 2005.

Most of the flats are in the city's prime areas. The sales were said to be a boost to the city's construction funds for housing resettlement.

The seven-page list disclosed the name of buyers, their jobs, the location of their flats and floor area in detail. Most of the flats were more than 100 square metres, with some larger than 300 square metres.

The list was first posted on March 23 on and officials tried to have it deleted, but it had already spread to other forums. It sparked an outpouring of criticism from the public, who called the officials evil and corrupt.

A Wenzhou official admitted yesterday that the list was correct and had been compiled by his office on January 7, but he said he did not know how it came to be posted on the internet. He denied the prices paid by officials were below market level.

The prices 'were almost the same as the market prices in 2004 and 2005', said Jin Peijing, chief of Wenzhou's old-city renovation project. 'People feel the prices are very low because housing prices have increased sharply since 2006.'

He also claimed that the sale of the flats did not represent preferential treatment to government officials; they were available to everyone.

Mr Jin said the prices in 2004 and 2005 were only 'temporarily set'. Government authorities would reassess the properties, and owners would have to pay the higher prices.

But when asked about how the price was set and why most flats were sold to government officials, he said he had no idea as he had been in the position only since September. 'We are just waiting for the city government's reply on their reappraisal of those housing prices,' he said.

A city government spokesman said yesterday that he could not comment on the progress of the issue.

Xu Haibo, a lawyer for the Shanghai Junyue Law Firm, said it was inappropriate for the city government to set 'temporary prices' on flats without that information being disclosed to the public.

'The government should take more open and transparent measures to ensure that everybody can have an equal opportunity to bid for the flats,' Mr Xu said. 'Otherwise, it will cause social injustice.'