Graft probe slows Chengdu down

Graft probe slows Chengdu down

CHINA - It used to take as little as two weeks for Singaporean Vincent Chia to get visa approvals for himself and his American staff to work in the south-western Chinese city of Chengdu.

But he had to wait almost four months after applying in April for a visa for a foreign teacher to work at ChildFirst China, a kindergarten chain which he runs as general manager of operations.

He got the visa only after he sought help from IE Singapore, a government agency that helps Singapore businesses expand overseas, Mr Chia, 43, told The Sunday Times.

"It was frustrating because we were just waiting and didn't know what was causing the hold-up. It also inconvenienced us because we had to get an expat teacher from another English school in the meantime," added Mr Chia, who has lived in Chengdu for about six years and was previously running two other businesses.

His experience reflects how an ongoing graft probe in Sichuan province has led to a more cautious and slower business environment in Chengdu, the provincial capital.

Government officials are treading more carefully amid investigations into associates of former Sichuan deputy party boss Li Chuncheng, who was sacked last December. More than 50 officials have been replaced and several prominent corporate honchos detained in the past year.

As a result, the government's nod has become harder to get as the once-dependable guanxi - or network of relationships - is not working as effectively, said several Singaporean and Chinese businessmen based in Chengdu, some of whom declined to be named, citing sensitivities.

Singaporean architect Alex Ong said land acquisition deals for some of his local clients are taking longer now. "This exerts an indirect impact on us and is giving us more of a stretch," he said.

Another Singaporean businessman said getting government officials to respond promptly to their applications or requests has become a "very painful process". It took months to get power supply running at one of his new buildings, he added.

A Chengdu businesswoman, who heads an events planning company, said officials are following the rulebook to get things done, even for the seemingly smallest things like issuing traffic entry passes at the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention (WCEC) held here last month.

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