Door opens on system for official residences

Updated: 2013-12-25 09:00

By Dong Fangyu (China Daily)

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Eligibility criteria

Wang suggested that eligibility should be based on four criteria: Cases of national dignity; the nature of an official's work; the demands imposed by that work; and the individual's contribution to the fight against corruption.

Under these principles, Wang suggested that at the highest level, the system would cover the president, the premier, the chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, the chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, and the heads of the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate. These positions reflect national dignity, he said.

As to the nature of the work, provincial governors and the heads of provincial high courts and procuratorates should be eligible, because the occupants of these posts are more likely to be tempted to wield their power for wealth.

Wang said the mayors of cities and counties, chiefs of the Party's organization departments, heads of police and the secretaries of local discipline inspection commissions should also be included in the system.

Peking University's Yan said the proposed system would be incompatible with the current situation. "Who will live where and in which residence? How do the official residences vary depending on the seniority of officials?" he asked.

"China has a huge number of officials and many have no fixed terms of service. Most senior officials are either promoted by their superiors or continue in their current posts within the government until they retire," he added.

Ma was also troubled. "The situation is highly complex. Senior officials can be from different sections, such as the Party, the government, the National People's Congress, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, not to mention army officers and the heads of courts and procuratorates," he said.

By the end of last year, there were around 7 million public servants in China, according to the State Administration of the Civil Service. There are no statistics about the number of officials at the very highest level, but Ma estimated that there are more than 2,000 at the provincial or ministerial level, and roughly 68 on the very top rung of the political ladder, such as State councilors, vice-presidents and members of the politburo.

"It would be better to severely limit the number of officials allowed to live in government residences," he said. "Those officials not included in the residence system could be provided with smaller, simpler government-sponsored housing.

"Only elected senior officials should be eligible for the housing system, rather than those appointed by their superiors, because elected officials have a fixed term of service so it's easier to ensure they move out when they leave office."

For Ma Baocheng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Governance, the issue is not just a matter of accommodation, but also a demonstration of an individual's political power and their skill in handling the intricate relations between top leaders and their subordinates.

"A government residence compound is not just a place of accommodation - it's also a symbol of the execution and organization of power," he said.

Lin Zhe, a law professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, pointed to another problem the reformers may face: "An official residence system has to come up with follow-up reforms. It will go down the drain without effective inspection and supervision.

"The rules must clearly state the consequences if officials refuse to relinquish their State-owned homes, or turn them into private residences for sale or rent. There also needs to be an effective way of subjecting the use of official housing to public scrutiny.

"If you are not in a government position, you are simply a member of the general public or a Party member and there is no reason for you to continue enjoying the benefits attached to the position," she said.

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