For average Chinese, one of the most common complaints about the Chinese government is the pervasive spread of “gray income” corruption in many government departments. At all levels of government, officials have opportunity to benefit themselves using public taxpayer money. Many officials eat and drink outrageously with public funds. Some officials are given the right to a government car plus driver, and use them regularly to run personal errands.
Because these stories surround us every day, it’s a constant reminder of special privileges for officials, and increasingly a source of real public anger. The most recent example comes from Holhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. This story has drawn attention in the state press, which probably implies some sort of punishment will be coming to the officials involved.
This column (文章）comes from Rednet:
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In this time of national difficulty, can the “right to sign a tab” go on a diet?
On the night of June 3rd, a reporter received a telephone call. Officials from the Holhot Environmental Protection bureau were acting like tyrants at a local restaurant; they refused to pay after a meal, and even assaulted people. After the reporter got to the scene, the receipts showed the meal was ordered by the office chairman Mrs. Guo; 34 people consumed 6815 RMB. Those who used force were caught on surveillance camera.
Some netizens joked: if there was a government official that had actually paid cash for a meal of 6815 RMB, that would be a true news story. According to restaurant management, after these people finished eating, they refused to pay. Instead, they insisted on putting it on a tab. This suggests two problems: 1) this restaurant and the environmental protection bureau didn’t have a tab/billing relationship, and a signature is simply not good currency; 2) the fact that these officials were so exaggerated in their tyrannical response suggests that signing the tab is the most logical thing in the world; how can there be a restaurant that doesn’t let them pay on the tab, this is outrageous enough to fight over. Behind the conflict lies something called the “right to sign a tab” (“签单权”).
Reportedly, after officials reach a certain level in rank, they gain the “right to sign a tab”. This right basically means that within certain limits, the official can sign receipts offered by hotels and restaurants, and accounting will provide compensation and pay these debts. Different ranks have different limits on their “right to sign a tab”. In an economically developed area, even small officials have a shocking annual “tab maximum”: millions, even tens of millions of RMB. Because of this type of gray income compensation, some officials will host holidays, host ceremonies, host visitors, host as a service, host for work… any time they want to eat or drink, they can host a banquet, and eat the best food available on land and sea. Drinking themselves into a stupor comes with this. Of course, the restaurants that offer this “tab service” gets quite an advantage too; there’s quite a bit of profit ready for the taking. The more that’s signed, the more that everyone gains. Numbers show that every year, more than 200 billion RMB of public money is spent on eating and drinking every year. That’s equivalent to eating a Three Gorges Dam – and behind the “Dam” lies a series of official signatures.
Just one meal for an environmental protection agency is 6815 RMB, meaning more than 200 RMB per person. Spending this amount on a working meal is certainly more than respectable in any city in China. No one knows how frequently they do this, but based on the attitude they showed, they probably contribute quite a bit to the “Three Gorges Dam” of consumption.
In this time of national difficulty, the national State Council arranged a work meeting on May 21st. They rolled out a campaign of supporting those in the disaster zone by cutting consumption and wastage nation wide: government and Party offices at every level must cut down on conferences, hosting visitors, paid-for vacations, usage of public cars, and also compress study groups going overseas. Strict controls were put in place on purchases of government cars, and all construction of government-related buildings was temporarily halted. Every department within the national government has to cut its budget by 5%, and use it towards relieving the earthquake disaster. But this latest incident in Holhot has shown the tremendous difficulty in cutting down consumption in some government officials.