The number of cars reserved for government officials has been a cause of public discontent in the past. Austerity measures have been aimed at addressing this concern. Now for more on the issue, we’re joined in the studio by my colleague Jin Yingqiao.
Q1: Tell us more about the guidelines issued last year to regulate this. Specifically, who can no longer use taxpayers’ money on a government car?
A: Well, it’s a massive scale operation going on around the country. So who’s affected? According to a 2014 State Council directive, all officials below the rank of deputy minister no longer have a car and a driver. They can still use official vehicles, but only for special reasons, such as emergencies and law enforcement. What do they get instead? Transport subsidies ranging from 500 to 13-hundred yuan per month depending on their rank. Now this system is more in line with countries that have stricter policies, like the United States. There, only the President, vice-president and ministers can use government cars to commute from home and work. Some others are permitted to drive government cars from their workplace to bus stops, provided that there’s no public transport or shuttle bus on that route. So China is making progress. At the national level, 3,000 cars are on auction now. At the local level, reforms have to be enforced by the end of this year.
Q2: We know this is part of a bigger plan to streamline the government. So how much money is going to be saved from these restrictions on government cars?
A: Good question. This is not just an image issue. It is also very much an economic one for the government and tax payers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the central government spent over 7 billion yuan, or $1.16 billion in 2013 on the so-called “three public-consumptions” — official overseas trips, receptions, and government vehicles and maintenance. Of that, over 60 percent went into government cars. In 2013, just at the central government level, official vehicles were retained by 38 government bodies and close to 400 affiliated institutions. But the reforms are already having an impact. According to the Finance Ministry, money spent on cars in 2014 was $20.5 million less than that in 2013. And in the long run, money spent on government cars could be cut by half.