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.
Not being one of your forensic minded readers, here I go again with another anecdote! 对不起！Last November, a friend in Beijing toured the Highlands of Scotland with a bunch of colleagues. They intended to visit me in my rural idyll but I was en route for BJ!! When I visited the returning tourist in his BJ apartment, two massive suitcases still graced the lobby. The living room was a shrine to UK’s finest “shopping outlets”. I was asked to give my opinion on luxury purchases which ranged from cashmere scarves, leather loafers, designer label clothes. My friend asked me how many “luggages” I was allocated on my (economy) British Airways flight to China and contrasted the meagre 23k to his generous Air China allowance. His main comment on the Scotland part of his nationwide UK trip was annoyance that they were booked on a “small plane” from Glasgow to Paris where they picked up their return flight to China. His wife (who also has a Government job) tells me that this November his “trip” is to New York and she has already put in her order for designer label clothes from NY’s “shopping outlets”. Now my husband and I worked for many years as social workers (a local Government job) and like my BJ friends, we also complained that we did not earn “mega bucks”. Sometimes we would have training days when we got the amazing perk of a free buffet lunch! When we joined colleagues for a meal out we all paid for ourselves, except when it was somebody’s birthday when colleagues “treated” them. Foreign holidays to open the mind? Banquets! Ha Ha!
Foreign travel for some Chinese governmental officials may be regarded as a kind of ‘benefit or welfare’. A tour around South America (for one month) is said to be the best that could be offered for senior retired cadres in a province of middle China, beating the more traditional European tour. I remember once a senior local official of my hometown (a third-tier city) boasted about his trip to America and Canada which is definitely comprised of mostly leisure activities in the name of ‘study and research’ (学习研究). Interesting though, he later emphasized that it was all about the ‘study’ advanced American society and appearing a bit regrettable for telling us about his ‘exotic and fruitful’ trip there. He apparently enjoyed very much in North America and left with fairly good impression. But it seems not all these groups are about shopping or touring, for sometimes these overseas trips did ‘open up’ their horizon. A doctor from a large hospital once talked somberly about the relaxing lifestyle and efficiency of hospitals in Nordic countries.
In an SOE, it’s all about the shopping. We have “training” in the US and this is looked on as quite a perk. Once there, watching them during the training sessions is a bit like watching a dog in heat, as they are frustrated that they can’t get to the factory outlets. I suppose anyone going to a different country would be excited. But it’s amazing to me the unabashed behavior when the ostensible reason for the trip is training. You would be another example of Yaxue’s Dumb Americans if you really believe it’s anything other than a boondoggle.
Sadly, however, besides the long shopping list for Coach and other designer items to be purchased for family and friends, they have to bring back lots of baby formula and vitamins since such mainland items can’t be trusted.
By the way, I vaguely recall that the department that was most in arrears in submitting its big 3 report was the department (Audit Department perhaps?) that was supposed to scrutinize the reports on the big 3 expenditures submitted by other departments. Also as I recall the State Agency on Taxation was the highest spender on these items, sort of a weird department to spend big money on travel and entertainment.
Lao Why?, I need to register a trademark for “Dumb Americans” :))
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I use that all the time. It explains a lot. I also often use ‘xinyan’. But many don’t know the term. It must be a weibo internet term. Probably also my horrible putonghua has something to do with it!
[…] 原文：They need time in Hawaii to relax – Public spending on overseas travel 译文：夏威夷休假——海外考察的公共支出 作者：Tom 日期：2011/11/10 […]