Clampdown on government worker junkets

The Beijing government will impose tougher restrictions and place stricter audits on its workers' overseas trips in the wake of scandals in Guangdong province, where officials turned business trips into lavish junkets.

The Beijing Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau issued a directive on Wednesday calling on workers to "lower costs and tighten training disciplines … to improve the orientation and effectiveness of training."

The directive said government agencies in the city must now disclose internally the goals, duration, schedule and costs of overseas trips for the purpose of training and development if the information is not classified.

A special audit system will be established with external auditors randomly examining bills and costs from overseas training trips.

Beijing government workers wishing to go overseas for training must now submit their itineraries for the approval of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.

The directive said the new measures will make it difficult for workers to exploit overseas trips because the itineraries must guarantee two-thirds of the time will be spent on classes, surveys or business practices.

The directive also sets limits on costs.

"Pocket money" will no longer be given for projects lasting less than 90 days, and the budget for miscellaneous expenses is set at US$10 (S$16) a day, regardless of the destination.

Accommodation costs, meal allowances and training fees will also get a set budget.

Workers attending training trips to the United States lasting less than 90 days will receive US$80 for accommodation and US$30 for meals.

For mid- to long-term trips, the budget will be set by the month, with workers able to receive an all-inclusive monthly budget of up to US$800.

The directive is not the first time China's Central and local governments have attempted to reign in civil-servant spending amid growing public demand for more transparency.

Earlier this month it was revealed the urban management authority in Guangzhou spent 1.14 million yuan (S$227,669) in 2010 on overseas training and survey trips. The excessive cost sparked public condemnation, and the trips were labeled a "tour around the world".

Last year the Beijing Municipal Commission of Population and Family Planning prompted controversy when it spent 1.18 million yuan on "learning international practices of population management".

Beijing-based independent lawyer Wang Xiaohui said there should be transparency in government spending.

"The public has the right to know and monitor how its money is spent," Wang said. "Such a system to prevent the misuse of public funds should have been established earlier."

A civil servant with the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce, who does not want to be identified to "avoid trouble", said the directive would have a bigger impact on senior officials than on staff members.

"I seldom have the chance to go on overseas trips. The directive would make senior officials seriously calculate their budget on trips or face auditors' questions," she said.

She said the internal disclosure of training programs would allow staff members to know officials' whereabouts - information not previously freely available.

"But implementation of the directive matters most," she said.

Tan Yue, a logistic manger in Beijing, said she thought training programs should be publicized on authorities' websites so external monitoring can play an even greater part.

Since 2008 many provincial-level governments in China have attempted to control excessive spending on overseas business trips.

Authorities in Henan province have investigated and punished 61 officials, including 17 above county-level, in 13 cases since 2008, the Henan Legal Daily reported in February.

Become a fan on Facebook