The “three public expenditures” refers to public spending on government vehicles, banquets, and overseas travel. This part of spending is the most hotly debated, and one that netizens have already won symbolic victories in (meaningful ones will come more slowly). Government agencies are now supposed to make this part of their budget public, but many have simply refused to release the information or claim that it is a “state secret.”
While I have no idea how much public money is spent on travel, I am familiar with the kinds of trips government employees take, and I think this gives an interesting glimpse of the decision making process that goes into this. Note: my office is responsible for all travel by hospital employees, and these trips are covered by funds from the provincial ministry of health.
Currently a hospital in Northern Jiangsu is preparing to attend a 14 day seminar in the US at a cost of over $3,000 per person. When I asked them what they were hoping to learn at this program they shrugged their shoulders and said, “It will help us broaden our horizons.” The seminar consists of 10 two hour lectures, followed by “cultural events” which seems to be visiting parks, eating, and perhaps a hockey game. The schedule also includes 4 full days with no planned activities besides shopping.
Without any clear stated purpose, doctors going on the trip have said that it seems like more of a vacation than work. Indeed, organizers of the seminar emphasized that there would be time for rest and relaxation. The value of the seminar appears to be secondary to the trip, especially given that most of the seminar is directed at clinical work, but those chosen to attend it are mostly hospital administrators that “deserve” to go abroad.
Meanwhile at my wife’s school “leaders” are planning a whirlwind tour of American universities (which for some reason has become part of my wife’s job). She was told that they should visit some campuses and museums while “enjoying American culture” and that she needed to have their schedule conclude in Hawaii. The dean who gave her this assignment made sure to repeat the fact that the leaders needed time in Hawaii to “relax”. When she asked whether or not they needed to meet with any college representatives during their trip, the dean replied that it wouldn’t be necessary. The goal is just to see college campuses, and not even at the same level that prospective students would.
Again the idea was stressed by the dean that it didn’t matter that the leaders had no clear goals, they would be opening their minds, (perhaps they were really big fans of Eat Pray Love?). This college by the way, is not one of China’s elite institutions, just one of dozens of mid-level universities in Jiangsu.
This irresponsible use of public funds is another strong argument for a free press. Due to the limited oversight of these budgets, local gov’ts and state agencies know that this money rarely has to be accounted for, and use it for their own pleasure. Whether it’s purchasing an Audi as a police car, meals consisting of wild or endangered animals and exorbitantly priced liquor, or taking a trip to Hawaii to “open their minds,” gov’t waste undermines the Party’s stated beliefs, and worsens the public’s attitude toward the gov’t.