New rule to rein in govt spending

Officials face removal from their posts if they are found overspending on vehicles, receptions and overseas trips, according to new regulation released on Monday.

The regulation issued by the State Council are the first legal documents that ask authorities above county level to include spending on the three items in budgets. The rules will take effect from Oct 1.

The regulation is the latest in a series of moves the central government has taken in recent years to promote transparency and fight abuse of taxpayers' money amid public complaints.

Liu Jiayi, head of the National Audit Office, said earlier that the "three expenses" concept, as it is known, is still not clear among government officials. Also, many ministries and their affiliates have spent more than allowed on those items.

According to the regulation, anyone who overspends on the items or misappropriates funds from other budget items to cover them will be demoted or even removed from their posts in the case of "serious" violations.

The same punishment will be applied to other misconduct, such as retaining more official vehicles than the allowed quota, spending more than allowed on cars and interior decoration, and building luxurious office facilities.

Governments will have to regularly publish numbers and categories of official vehicles, according to the regulation.

It also asks governments above county level to set up a system, standards and cost ranges for official receptions.

Government authorities should also make available the goals and schedules of overseas trips and limit the number of people in the delegations and the duration of the trips, the regulation said.

Experts and legislators said the regulation might be a "deterrent" to overspending if strictly carried out.

Ye Qing, a deputy to the National People's Congress, who has proposed reforms on car use by officials to the top legislative body over the past years, said that "the regulation promotes transparency and has many important measures".

Ye said he is especially impressed that the regulation defines the Government Offices Administration of the State Council and local governments as responsible parties - which were absent in the past - to monitor the expenses.

Meanwhile, he expects the regulation to be more specific so that it can be more easily implemented. For example, it should define what are "serious" violations, under which officials will be removed from their posts, he said.

Responding to Premier Wen Jiabao's call to not increase expenditure on the three items last year, ministries and many provincial-level governments disclosed their spending on the items last year. They are now required to provide more detailed information, including the number of vehicles they have and the number of officials traveling abroad.

Wenzhou's government in Zhejiang province is part of a pilot project that stipulates that official meals should not exceed 60 yuan (S$12) per person. Expensive food - such as shark fin, abalone and drinks like Moutai - are banned from the menus.

Besides limiting spending on cars, receptions and overseas trips, the regulation stipulates that spending on conferences should be well managed and videoconferences should be encouraged to save costs.

"As younger people are taking up government posts, they will better adapt to (new technology) and choose cheaper ways to communicate in China," said Hao Mingwei, a sales manager with Polycom, a provider of videoconference devices in China.

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