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Four Years on, Frugality Campaign Curbs Corruption and Wins Hearts

By China Daily | 2016-12-09

Antique dealer Mr Zhang is concerned about his once successful business and how to feed his family on the pittance he now makes.


Zhang's business bore the brunt of the Chinese central leadership's frugality campaign, which was launched in December 2012, featuring the "eight-point rules," which aimed to curb extravagance and improve officials' work style.

He admitted that public staff accounted for the lion's share of customers and the frugality rules put an end to their reckless spending.

"I believed the campaign would not last long, so I just waited for the situation to return to normal. I was wrong," he said.

He now plans to reduce the prices of his goods and stock more affordable items to woo new customers.

Zhang was not alone in thinking that the frugality campaign would pass if it was ignored.

However, Sunday was the fourth anniversary of the release of the rules, which banned red carpet official receptions and use of public vehicles for private affairs, reduced pro forma meetings, avoided traffic disturbances such as road closure, and ordered austerity in official meals, travel and housing.

Four years on, the campaign has never showed a sign of fading, instead it is still going strong as the central authorities strive to maintain close ties with the people and eliminate both "tigers" (corrupt senior officials) and "flies" (corrupt lower-level officials).

According to the CPC's anti-graft agency, nearly 200,000 Party and government staff had been punished for violating the rules in the past four years, with many holding senior positions.

These people were involved in more than 146,400 cases, about a quarter of which involved the use of public vehicles and dining out on public funds, the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said.

Curb corruption, win people's hearts

Head chef at Quanjude, a famous roast duck restaurant chain, Gu Jiuru used to witness "corruption on the table" during official or company receptions. "The dishes were expensive, and some even contained 'forbidden ingredients,' but they were more often thrown up rather than gobbled down," he said.

Such waste is a rarity now, according to Gu, who is happy about this change despite the hit his revenue has taken.

In fact, China's catering industry was dealt a heavy blow by the austerity rules, and many high-end restaurants, including Quanjude, suffered for a time. The industry's revenue growth slowed down in 2013 and 2014.

"The austerity order for officials contributed much to the decline," according to Wang Yukai, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.

But surprising changes followed. Many food and beverage brands synonymous with luxury consumption cut their prices, got rid of their gaudy packaging and increased more "low-end" products, tapping the mass markets of ordinary people.

For example, a famous liquor brand cut the price of its flagship wine from more than 1,800 yuan (260 U.S. dollars) per bottle to about 900 yuan per bottle, increasing sales.

The low-end transformation also aided the 30 percent growth of profit posted by Beijing-based Huatian Catering Group from January to October, the group's chairman Jia Feiyue said.

"The implementation of the austerity rules has, in some ways, helped the catering industry squeeze the bubbles and put their development back to a healthy, rational track," said Jiang Junxian, head of China Cuisine Association.

In the first 10 months of 2016, the revenue of China's catering industry grew by 10.9 percent year on year, and the annual revenue is expected to exceed 3.5 trillion yuan, according to Jiang.

Dining, florist, attire and some entertainment entities have reduced their prices, benefiting the everyday people, said Luo Xiaomin from south China's Chongqing Municipality.

The frugality campaign also showed progress in the public vehicle area. China has vacated and auctioned extra official cars, and further regulated officials' use of public vehicles in the campaign, saving about 1.4 billion yuan in car purchasing and maintenance.

Unremitting, upgraded efforts

Following the eight-point rules, the CPC central authorities issued more than a dozen regulations or rules that aim to standardize officials' benefits and reduce corruption.

The latest rules released on Nov. 30 on officials' benefits stipulated that Party and state leaders should vacate their offices in a timely manner upon retiring.

The new rules, regarded as "an expansion and upgrade" to the Party's eight-point guidelines, also said officials should "travel without pomp," minimize their impact on public life and not have vehicles exceeding the set standards.

Amid the reinforced corruption fight, officials will be named and punished for any tiny violations.

Since August 2013, the CCDI established a monthly reporting system to monitor the implementation of frugality rules nationwide, naming and shaming violators ranging from village chiefs to provincial and ministerial level officials on its website.

In one case, a township official was reprimanded for eating an apple in a fruit store without paying.

"Strict requirements bring forth respect. (The requirements) are constraint, and are also protection," said an anonymous official from Hainan Province. The official said the strict disciplines will prevent the public staff from corruption.

However, CCDI statistics indicate that there is still much left to be done.

The statistics showed that 33,532 violations were reported from January to October in 2016, almost the number dealt with for the whole of 2015.

Prof. Wang Yukai warned that the malpractice and undesirable work style may rebound if the disciplinary restraint becomes loose.

The implementation of the frugality campaign must continue and be tightened up every year, making the fine work style the norm and letting the people see the real changes, said Li Kang from the Jiangxi Academy of Social Sciences.


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