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June 24, 2014

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Home » Opinion » China Knowledge

Curbing approval powers to cut cardres’ corruption

THE other day I called my friend for a cup of coffee but was told he was a dozen kilometers away, waiting in line to have his car checked in accordance with an old state rule.

He called me back the next day complaining that he had spent half a day at the vehicle-inspection site despite his still shinny hatchback having logged fewer than 20,000 kilometers. He said that much to his relief a new policy will liberate him from the inconvenience for the next several years.

A new policy by the Ministry of Public Security and state quality watchdog was published last month, stipulating that private cars are exempted from inspection for the first six years. It will take effect on September 1.

I praise the new policy but others might not be as happy as my friend and me. Earlier media reports revealed that people were fraudulently making fortunes from vehicle inspections. Owners of substandard vehicles have been paying brokers who are able to magically gain quick passage for the vehicles.

In some extreme conditions, car owners paid bribes to the inspection shops to prevent their cars from failing the test and being prohibited from road.

The new policy will make the business much less lucrative and, most importantly, it will squeeze the power of officials who go “rent seeking.”

Rent-seeking is rampant in our society today. Recently, Beijing’s former traffic director was put under investigation for serious discipline violation. During his tenure there was a scandal in Beijing’s car plate lottery. Media reports said that while car owners waited for the lottery results, well-off vehicle owners could easily get plates if they paid 200,000 yuan (US$32,000) or even higher.

A car is necessary for many people in Beijing as they live too far away from their companies or downtown while the public transport is still less than satisfactory. The plate lottery system is a compromise between fairness and reality but it also provides corrupt officials the opportunity to make a fortune.

President Xi Jinping said both the invisible and visible hands shall be well used. The visible hand is always full of power. It can allocate limited resources, approve rights or revoke them or even carry out punishment. It can also seek bribes.

In the latest apparent example, Xu Yongsheng, deputy director of the National Energy Administration, has been removed from his post. Investigators said they seized 100 million yuan in cash at his home and that four cash-counting machines were short circuited after hours of non-stop working.

A coal mine owner hinted at the power Xu enjoyed, saying he’d like to bribe Xu much more than that for preferential approvals. All of this shows the amazing extent to which people’s livelihoods are affected by certain government approvals and disapprovals.

Curbing power

We are glad to see that the government has started to curb its power. Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to cut the existing 1,700 items and businesses that require administrative approvals by one third within five years.

So it appears that there will be similar new policies like the one on vehicle inspection to replace the current rules and bring us more convenience.

Premier Li said the goal is to transform government functions, and redefine and rationalize relations between the government and the market and society. “We need to leave to the market and society what they can do well. The government needs to manage well the matters that fall in its province,” he said.

I raise both hands in favor of his words and deeds.


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