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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: January 17, 2011 NO. 3 JANUARY 20, 2011
Irritating Spending
More regulations and transparent government data may be needed to check public money squandering during government purchases

"Even when sometimes the procurement prices are higher than market prices, it is because the government fulfills its commitment to support certain domestic brands," said Wang. He believes the recently exposed shopping sprees for iPod Touch and 41,000-yuan laptop don't fall into this category.

He said irrational procurements usually involve items beyond centralized lists, such as unconventional office equipment.

He said to justify their purchases from the lists, local government departments tend to come up with various "special work needs" as excuses, which are often easily accepted by regulatory authorities when the local budget has enough money to complete the purchases.

Therefore, this grey zone of purchases beyond the centralized lists often breeds corruption, especially in relatively small purchases. Wang said in many cases one or two computer suppliers monopolized a local government procurement market by relying on their "close connections" with some government departments.

Wang said besides more elaborate regulations on the ratification procedures of government procurement, local auditing and supervisory departments need to step into misconduct probes when "bizarre procurement" cases are exposed.

In January 2010, the State Council issued a draft rule for the implementation of the Government Procurement Law for public feedback. The final regulation is under deliberation.

Open to spending

Another solution to curb squandering of taxpayers' money lies in the government's efforts to increase its financial openness in recent years. The landmark events during this bottom-up campaign included the government of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province publicizing its budget for the first time in May 2008 and Guangzhou Bureau of Finance publicizing the budgets of 114 government departments in October 2009.

Gao Qiang, Chairman of the Budget Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, said during the 2010 session of lawmakers, opening government budgets will be promoted.

In March 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao said the government budget system will be improved and budgets will become more transparent so that ordinary citizens can learn how much governments have spent on various projects.

Wu Junliang, founder of the Fiscal Budgeting Observation Volunteers, a Shenzhen-based non-governmental organization, has achieved national fame for actively promoting the transparency of government budgets. "Only when the budget information becomes available can people know whether the government is spending money in the most effective and austere way. Only by making such information available can government become prudent in using taxpayer money," Wu said.

Liu Xiaobing, a professor at the School of Public Economics and Administration of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said the information openness will help to hold each government department accountable for its spending and enable mass media to supervise the development of government spending systems in order to avoid wasting public money.

"In addition to publishing budgets, we also hope the government to disclose information on how the budgets are implemented. For example, the government should unveil all its purchases, whether they are USB flash drives or iPod Touch, and let people judge whether they are necessary or not," said Professor Xin at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

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