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Transparency in deed
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Compared with the auto brand names on the list for government procurement in 2008, more domestic brands are on the list this year.

It is also reported that standards are being redefined for government-used cars, increasing the proportion of fuel-efficient and homemade cars. On this matter, the government appears to be moving in the right direction.

While the government has made the right move on both counts, that is not enough as a satisfactory answer to what is uppermost in the public mind. Since they as taxpayers have the right to know how their money is spent, the general public wants to know why billions of yuan have to be spent on cars for government use every year.

If this expenditure is truly necessary, they want transparency about the procurement list - why this brand and not that brand has been selected, or who has approved this list and how.

They may also want to know whether the procurement list requires to be ratified by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Government procurement is meant to purchase the right things for official needs at all levels at a reasonable price so that waste can be avoided and corruption curbed in the process of public procurement.

Yet, it was not rare in the past to find that goods purchased as part of government procurement packages were priced higher than average rates prevalent in the market. When money was wasted rather than being saved to uphold the principle of government procurement, there is reason for people to suspect corruption in the process.

From there it is a short step to assume that spending billions of yuan on government cars is made imperative only because it provides so much room for corruption.

The total amount government at all levels spent on purchasing cars in 2008 was 80 billion yuan. The number of cars thus acquired was estimated at around 4 million nationwide. The expenditure on their use and maintenance would be around 300 million yuan a year.

In recent years, there have been calls for reform of the government car-use system. It is not easy for such reform to be implemented nationwide at short notice, but that does not mean the case for reform itself should be ruled out as unnecessary. Nor does it mean that the process of procurement should not be made transparent.

Transparency could be the most effective way to prevent corruption in the process and to dispel suspicion in the public mind.

People do not want to be told how honest and clean their government is. They want, instead, to see it for themselves.

(China Daily June 19, 2009)

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