Door opens on system for official residences

Updated: 2013-12-25 09:00

By Dong Fangyu (China Daily)

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Door opens on system for official residences

Policy aims to end abuse of housing perks, Dong Fangyu reports in Beijing.

Over the years, senior Chinese officials have been granted access to government housing during their term of office. But in recent years, some have overplayed their hands by abusing the system, and their excessive housing perks have caused public resentment and consternation. In the roll call of fallen officials, much of the graft has revolved around the government housing system.

To curb official corruption related to housing and end extravagance, China will "explore ways to implement an official residence system", according to one of the proposals in a wide-ranging reform blueprint approved at a key Party meeting in November.

The notion of "an official residence system", albeit with few details so far, quickly caught the interest of the public, as people speculated about how such a reform would impinge upon vested interests.

Thirty years ago, most officials shared similar accommodation. The long-fostered image of modest two-story red-brick houses set among trees and lawns with a fishpond in the center may be overly sentimental, but it fundamentally reflects the accommodation available to government officials about 30 years ago, in the early days of the reform and opening-up policy.

Things have changed dramatically since then. In October, China Economic Weekly reported that approximately 100 senior officials at provincial or ministerial rank have fallen from grace since 2000. Of those, 53 were involved in bribery and corruption related to housing.

In July, Liu Zhijun, the former railway minister, received a suspended death sentence after being found guilty of the abuse of power and accepting bribes, but what shocked the public most was Liu's admission that he had amassed 374 houses, some in Beijing, others spread around the country.

Meanwhile, Cai Bin, a senior urban-management official in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, widely known by the nickname "Uncle House", was found to have corruptly acquired more than 20 houses. Shortly after "Uncle House" was exposed, a "Sister House" and an "Auntie House" appeared.

At a time when the life savings of an ordinary citizen are far from enough to buy a house, repeated scandals concerning official corruption have prompted the authorities to overhaul the official housing system.

On Dec 11, the country's anti-corruption watchdog gave the first detailed definition of the proposed new regime. The CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said China will establish a system under which the government will arrange houses for senior officials, their spouses and children during their tenure of office. However, the officials will be required to hand back the properties when they leave their posts, so that they can be allocated to their successors.

Some experts believe the move constitutes a major breakthrough in the leadership's fight against corruption, while others remain skeptical. Some members of the public have even suggested that the changes will simply provide more perks for the officials.

According to Wang Yukai, a professor of political reform and E-governance at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, "setting up an official residence system is a fundamental move to prevent officials from trading their power for wealth".

Wang has led research projects into the accommodation provided for officials, the official residence system in ancient China, and current practices abroad. His reports on implementing an official residence system in China were presented to the government in July.

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