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March 3, 2010

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Gala canceled, but tempest endures

AN Internet flurry sparked by a posting that claimed a Shanghai district government department squandered a fortune on a lavish dinner and gifts for staff has proved to be a storm in a teacup - perhaps.

The government in question vehemently denied the allegations yesterday, up to a point.

The posting claimed the department had organized a 500,000 yuan (US$73,244) Chinese New Year's Eve feast for hard-working staff.

It said the Songjiang District Urban Management Bureau, a government department mainly in charge of keeping public order, booked 80 tables at Le Meridien Sheshan Shanghai, a five-star hotel, with a total budget of 400,000 yuan and had 100,000 yuan worth of gifts.

The posting, highlighting "the most luxurious dinner among the country's urban management officials on Chinese New Year's Eve," first appeared online at the weekend and public reaction snowballed.

A Songjiang District government official told Shanghai Daily yesterday that the posting was "total nonsense."

Mei Zhifang's denial came with a rider.

"The Meridien was one of three candidates for the year-end banquet," Mei said.

"Some of the urban management bureau workers might have spoken with the hotel but no official table booking was made."

She stressed that the real dinner plan bore no resemblance to the online version.

"The government could not afford the banquet described in the posting," she said.

However, a Meridien Sheshan management source told Shanghai Daily yesterday that there was a big dinner order from a government department that was canceled.

The source said the "high-value dinner order" was withdrawn after an edict from high-ranking district officials banning luxurious banquets.

A public relations official at the hotel said officials of a branch department of Songjiang government came to reserve tables before the Spring Festival, but were stopped by an outraged district director.

She was not sure whether it was the urban management department or how many tables were reserved, as no records were left after the reservation was canceled.

"It was a government department of the district and the cost for each table would have been about 5,000 yuan," she said.

Netizen Liu Seng, a Songjiang resident, expressed outrage at the posting: "It's ridiculous for a government department to hold such a luxury dinner."

Eric Xie, a 22-year-old student from Shanghai International Studies University, concurred, saying: "As a citizen, I should be given the right to be informed of the government's financial expenditure. I demand ... the government to tell us clearly which department has arranged for such an extravagant dinner."


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