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Taxpayers getting their money's worth

Updated: 2014-03-06 08:21
By Zhu Zhe ( China Daily)

As a veteran reporter of the annual legislative and political advisory sessions, I consider the two sessions a big political gala.

Every early March, about 5,000 legislators and advisers travel from near and far to the capital and stay together in hotels for about two weeks at huge expense to the taxpayer. The CPPCC once revealed that it spent 59 million yuan ($9.6 million) on the annual session in 2010, while the NPC never discloses the budget for its national meeting.

At the two sessions, the NPC deputies fulfill their legal obligation to review the work of the government and the top judicial organs. The role of the CPPCC National Committee members is to offer advice on how to make the country more prosperous and healthy.

Most of the deputies and members are serious about their duties as described by law. They not only talk, but also make their motions or proposals to urge the government to do a better job.

But some others have another important task during the two sessions - social networking. They are mainly local officials keen to grasp the opportunity to build better relations with central government officials, either for official or private gain.

That is why, in previous years, many expensive restaurants and entertainment venues near the hotels of the NPC delegation or CPPCC groups often ran short of private rooms during the two-session period.

And because of late gatherings, some deputies or members were too tired to stay awake during the meetings the next day. The unfortunate ones found that reporters had taken photos of them sleeping. Such photos were then presented in overseas media as excellent evidence to show that China's two sessions were merely a waste of taxpayers' money.

Taxpayers getting their money's worth

But this year, I doubt any deputy or member dare do such a thing. In fact, many high-end restaurants and entertainment venues in Beijing have shut down or cut their prices due to the ongoing campaign of thrift and clean governance.

Over the past year, the Party issued dozens of harsh rules to regulate Party members' behavior, such as banning them from attending lavish banquets or entering private clubs. The two sessions provide a test ground for the effectiveness of that campaign.

The changes are apparent. Some delegations cancelled their flights to Beijing, traveling by train instead. Hotels have stopped serving fresh fruit and flowers in the rooms of deputies and members, and cut about a third to half of the dishes at self-service meals.

The hot tea normally provided by attendants at meeting rooms is replaced this year by small bottles of water. And what is more, the bottled water carries name tags so that deputies or members can easily tell which ones are theirs to avoid waste.

There is a ban on deputies and members giving or receiving gifts. They are also encouraged to print fewer documents and rely more on digital versions.

This year, participants in the two sessions are also very sensitive about dinner invitations. A deputy I'm familiar with told me he turned down several invitations this year because "no one dare dine out at this time".

That's good news for reporters. With the deputies staying in hotels, there is a greater chance of us getting a hold of them for interviews.

It's good news for deputies and members, too. Less time out offers them more time to concentrate on what they should be doing at the two sessions - closely reviewing government reports and budget plans, thinking carefully about their motions and proposals, and submitting some concrete and meaningful suggestions for the good of the people.

People pay for the two sessions because they want the deputies and members to speak for them, not to use the platform for personal gain.

Those who normally wait to take photos of sleeping deputies might be disappointed this year. But if there are any, please expose them and let's see what the punishment is.

(China Daily 03/06/2014 page8)