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2018-07-06 10:56:50

Many public servants in Beijing will have to say goodbye to their official cars and drivers as the capital continues to crack down on what has been called “corruption on wheels.”

Since 2014, the municipal and district governments have reduced the number of official cars by 40 percent, The Beijing News reported Tuesday, offering staff transport subsidies instead.

The number of cars owned by government offices and Party branches of Beijing has dropped from around 40,000 to 24,000, according to the report, reducing spending on transportation by 8 percent to around 3 billion yuan ($450 million) per year. In place of the official vehicles, eligible staff are instead given monthly cash transport subsidies.

The municipal government is also launching an online platform for monitoring the remaining 80,000 cars belonging to government departments, public institutions, and state-owned companies in the capital. The system, supervised by the Party’s discipline inspection commission, will track cars via GPS in real time. Fleet vehicles will also be prohibited from leaving the city, and each car will be identified with a windshield sticker — red for government and Party branches, blue for state-owned companies — so the public can report misuse to a hotline.

The new rules aim to curb waste and corruption in the official car system, which has seen public money spent on luxury brands, employees using the vehicles for personal purposes, and a large staff of dedicated drivers often left with little to do.

Being a government driver was once seen as a stable public-sector job that often included perks associated with proximity to power, but more than 2,200 driver positions have been cut from Beijing’s municipal staff. Around 1,200 were transferred to other positions, while the remainder were either fired or given early retirement.

On top of the corruption issues, Beijing’s roads are famously congested: Residents have only a 1-in-2,031 chance of registering a license plate in the state lottery.

The Soviet-style official car system was introduced to China after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. At first, only state leaders, ministers, and provincial governors enjoyed the privilege, but the number of state cars at all levels of government skyrocketed in the 1980s under the reform and opening-up policy. The cost of maintaining official cars and drivers accounted for up to 25 percent of some government departments’ budgets.

Reforms targeting “corruption on wheels” started more than two decades ago but have progressed slowly. In 1994, China issued a policy stipulating that only ministers and provincial leaders could be assigned a dedicated car, but it was not enforced: Even some village heads had official cars.

In 2014, another national guideline was released as part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which revived the reform process. It banned officials beneath the deputy minister level from having official cars and suggested awarding public servants transport subsidies instead.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Cars owned by government departments are parked in a row during the National Peoples Congress in Beijing, March 4, 2018. Mai Tian/VCG)