It's year-end. All restaurants have become extremely busy, with every available parking space around them occupied. Toasting each other at the huge round tables in specially reserved rooms are government officials and company managers with blank checks prepared to "entertain for business purposes".
The practice, known as "feasting on public money", is common all year round but banquets abound especially at year-end because this is the time for public relations.
You have to invite officials from organizations at the higher level to a meal, as they may make it easier next year for your department to get the annual fund allocation according to the size you hoped for. You also need to invite people from other departments at your level or those that have frequent business relations with your office or company, because mutual support is essential.
And even within your own work units, leading cadres need to meet for a year-end conference, at which a "get-together meal" is an essential part, because it will help create a harmonious atmosphere within the unit.
Nevertheless, whatever the excuse, it is the expenditure of public money for a feast for a small number of people, who mostly hold leading positions. The public resents the practice, though they have become accustomed to seeing it.
When the media revealed that hundreds of billions of yuan was spent each year on "feasting" everybody (many of whom were the banquet-goers themselves) expressed shock and indignation at the squandering of public money. Most, however, could do nothing but shake their heads and say "meibanfa" (nothing can be done). And they continue to attend these banquets, either happily or reluctantly.
There are two reasons for the tolerance of feasting on public money.
First, having meals together to enhance personal relations is part of China's traditional culture of officialdom and business partnerships. Declining an invitation to a meal will be regarded as being against human nature.
Second, feasting on public money is no longer a serious matter in many people's minds. They think eating one meal on public money is simply alright, as compared to embezzling public money or taking bribes.
It is true that people do not particularly go to such banquets to satisfy their craving for good food, but to establish or consolidate relations. They are fully aware that these relations help to take advantage of or even the loopholes in State policies and provide cover for each other in their efforts to dodge laws and regulations.
Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that these dinner tables often nurture corruption. The harm such dinners may cause to the nation far exceeds the price of the meal.
The corruption of people's minds is far worse than the corruption of human relations. It is time we took the problem seriously before public servants and managers of State-owned enterprises no longer have any sense of shame about feasting on public money and when the public does not react positively to the problem.
We should no longer remain indifferent. Feasting on public money must be dealt with seriously. It is no different in nature to embezzlement. Legislation must be introduced to outlaw it.
(China Daily 12/26/2007 page10)