2017-10-18 10:34:19

In a review of Xi Jinping’s first term as Party general secretary, a government department reported on the fruits of one of his hallmark austerity initiatives: reducing abuse of state vehicle privileges.

Since the start of the campaign, 140 central Party and government departments have slimmed their car fleets by a total of 3,868 vehicles, or 61.8 percent, the National Government Offices Administration said on its website Monday.

Government and Party officials using state cars and drivers for their private affairs has long irked the Chinese public, in part due to the high cost to taxpayers. In 2010, the total bill for all central departments’ vehicles was in excess of 6 billion yuan (then $900 million) — more than the amount spent that year on official business trips and receptions, Ministry of Finance figures show.

In 2014, the government issued guidelines to cut down on abuse of state vehicles that included installing GPS trackers. Superfluous cars were to be auctioned online to the public. Monday’s report said that over 2,000 cars had been sold in this way, recouping about 65 percent of their original value. Reassigning personnel had saved an additional 113 million yuan, the report said.

The National Government Offices Administration said that most provincial and municipal state departments had completed the car reforms by the end of last year. This year’s focus, meanwhile, has shifted to state companies and institutions, including Party newspaper People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Ye Qing, deputy head of the Hubei provincial statistics department and a long-term advocate of service vehicle reform, told The Beijing News that the biggest roadblock currently is inadequate reform at the county-level and below. He explained that cadres at the grassroots level have complained of slow distribution of transport subsidies giving them no choice but to use state cars.

The state car reforms have run in tandem with an overall belt-tightening campaign for government and Party officials since Xi Jinping became general secretary in 2012. Stricter austerity measures, such as a ban on consuming alcohol during work hours, have hurt the sales of some luxury brands, such as liquor maker Moutai.

German car brand Audi, too, was once a favorite among Chinese officials. But at the 19th Party Congress, China’s most important political meeting held every five years, kicked off Wednesday, a car with a more distinguished political pedigree took center stage: According to state news agency Xinhua, Chinese brand Hongqi is the congress’ official car.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Drivers clean government vehicles in a parking lot outside a conference hall in Beijing, March 2, 2013. Tian He/VCG)