About one third of 105 county- and district-level officials from four provinces say visiting entertainment venues such as health spas and karaoke bars is part of their "networking duty", a poll shows.
People's Daily, one of the country's major newspapers, conducted the poll on 105 officials in Jiangsu, Henan, Sichuan and Shandong provinces, the paper stated yesterday.
Twenty percent of those polled felt visiting entertainment venues was essential for "physical and mental relaxation", while 49 percent thought it was necessary for "socializing", the survey said.
The Communist Party of China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has repeatedly prohibited officials from spending public money at entertainment spots.
In April 1995, the commission issued a circular forbidding Party and government officials at county-level and above from wasting public funds in karaoke bars, clubs and dancing venues.
More than half of the officials polled believed it was "possible" to enforce such a restriction, while 28 percent said such activities would be "hard to control", adding they wouldn't be able to do justice to their jobs if the restriction was strictly implemented, said Xiao Panpan, one of the People's Daily staff involved in the poll.
Gao Xinmin, a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC, the government needs to state regulations more "clearly".
"The regulations do not clearly state if officials can visit entertainment venues at their own expense or not. Nor is there a clear definition of 'entertainment venues'," Gao said.
Gao admitted to going to parlors for massages to help her insomnia.
"As long as the officials are spending their own cash and are not breaking the law, they can't be blamed."
On May 10, 21-year-old bathhouse attendant Deng Yujiao allegedly fatally stabbed local official Deng Guida and injured his colleague Huang Dezhi inside the premises of the bathhouse in Hubei province after the officials asked her to provide certain "special services".
Last week, Huang Dezhi, 41, was sacked from his post of vice-director of the office of business delegations of Yesanguan township, Hubei province.
Found guilty of "pushing, shoving and verbally insulting" the attendant, who refused to step into the bath with them, Huang was also deprived of his Party membership.
Deng Zhongjia, 45, another vice-director of the same office, who was also present in the bathhouse when the incident occurred, was also fired.
Yang Hongshan, an associate professor of public management at the Renmin University of China, called for extensive "public supervision" on officials who blow away taxpayers' hard-earned money at entertainment venues.
"A majority of the officials indulge in recreation, completely unrelated to official business, but always have a ready excuse to explain why such activities were necessary for their jobs," Yang said.
The most efficient solution, Yang suggested, was to "mobilize as much public supervision possible", and act on online or telephonic complaints.
"Internal official supervision through the years has never really met any success," he said.
Qiu Baochang, dean of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm, agreed most officials' visits to entertainment venues were solely meant for "personal gratification", rarely official business.
"I am sure they can find better places to discuss official matters than karaoke bars, massage parlors or bathhouses."
He added that officials should avoid spending even from their own pocket at such entertainment venues, as it was "widely regarded their income is not sufficient to support the lavish lifestyle".