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Ministries exceed budgets with vehicle expenses

By Wang Huazhong  (China Daily)

13:25, June 28, 2012

Several ministries and departments exceeded their vehicle budgets, according to a report released by the top audit watchdog on Wednesday.

The National Audit Office report, reviewing the budgets of 49 ministry-level organizations in 2011, also disclosed inappropriate spending or earmarking of funds for overseas trips.

The report's findings are part of efforts to promote greater accountability and cut what are referred to as the "three expenses" - overseas trips, vehicles and receptions. The public has expressed concern after recent publicized cases that involved exorbitant expenditure.

Finance Minister Xie Xuren reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Wednesday that government departments spent 9.36 billion yuan ($1.47 billion) on the "three expenses" in 2011, down from 9.47 billion yuan in 2010.

Buying and maintaining vehicles accounts for the largest part, 5.91 billion yuan, Xie said.

The Ministry of Culture has 94 registered vehicles, exceeding its quota of 44, the report said.

The State Bureau for Letters and Visits has a quota of 28 vehicles, but it has 48, according to the report.

Spending by the National Population and Family Planning Commission on buying and servicing vehicles exceeded its budget, it said.

And the National Council for Social Security Fund paid 66 percent more than its allowance on vehicle maintenance last year.

Increasing the maintenance budget without official approval, fabricating vehicle expenses or registering the ownership of vehicles under individuals rather than the organization, was also highlighted by the report.

"The concept of 'three expenses' among officials was not clear," Liu Jiayi, head of the audit office, said when briefing lawmakers on the report.

Despite the findings, experts praised the disclosure as "a step forward" to greater transparency but also predicted more developments.

Ninety-five out of 98 government departments disclosed the total amount of their "three expenses" in 2011.

Li Jingsong, a leading Beijing lawyer who wrote to all departments and asked for details of their expenses last year, said the report "shows the leadership's determination to tackle the issue".

The report will help the public participate more in promoting transparency and will push local governments to do the same as well, Li said.

The State Council issued guidelines to departments earlier this year urging the release of more details on "three expenses" and for provincial governments to do the same within two years.

The guidelines will also target city and county governments in the near future.

Disclosing the expenses should be aimed at "rationalizing the spending" rather than "slashing it simply for the sake of cutting it", Li said.

"Reasonable spending is necessary and required. Disclosure should serve no more than a means of monitoring."

The report also named malpractices in financing overseas trips. The National Natural Science Foundation of China spent 339,500 yuan more than allowed on overseas trips in 2010 and 2011.

The State Ethnic Affairs Commission hired an unqualified travel agency to arrange overseas trips and claimed reimbursement with nonstandard receipts.

The Ministry of Land and Resources spread its expenses for overseas trips over three of its affiliated institutions.

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