China official spending on perks well under budget last year

BEIJING, China – Amid an ongoing austerity drive, China’s once-lavish government spending on overseas travel, vehicles and entertainment was almost 15 per cent below budget last year, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday.

Just 5.37 billion yuan ($826 million) was spent in 2015 out of a budget of 6.31 billion ($970 million), according to a report on the ministry’s website Wednesday.

Although this year’s budget for the three items, known colloquially as the “three publics,” is only slightly lower, spending will continue to be tightly controlled, it quoted an unidentified ministry spokesman as saying.

“The ‘three publics budget’ is only an upper spending limit. All departments must strictly control ‘three publics’ spending within the budget range and in conformity with all relevant management regulations,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

With China’s economy slowing sharply from the runaway growth of the last decade, belt-tightening has been ordered across the government — with a special focus on what are widely seen as perks open to abuse. Last year’s economic growth declined to a 25-year low of 6.9 per cent and the International Monetary Fund expects the figure to drift down to 6.3 per cent this year.

In one sign of the cutbacks, spending on China’s powerful and hugely influential military is set to rise this year by just 7.6 per cent, the smallest increase in six years.

President Xi Jinping has also ordered officials to cut back on banquets and other non-essentials, while his sweeping anti-corruption campaign has further reduced spending and abuses of privilege among nervous officials.

The ministry said other factors, including changes in the international situation and a new policy restricting most new auto purchases to domestic brands, also held down spending.