Date
18 October 2017
As the gift-giving season approaches
As the gift-giving season approaches

POLICY WATCH: When you care enough to send the very best, don’t!

What’s wrong with sending greeting cards?

A lot of things, if you’re a government official or a boss at a state-owned enterprise, according to the Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog.

On Nov. 1, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection issued a circular banning officials from printing and sending New Year’s cards or calendars if these are paid for with public funds.

“The printing and production [of greeting cards] are getting increasingly extravagant and the waste is getting greater,” the commission said in a statement posted on the government website. “This is not only an expression of formalism, but drives extravagance.”

The order covers all government and party departments, state-owned enterprises and financial bodies. Exemptions will be made for agencies dealing with diplomacy as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau affairs, but they must avoid overspending and wastage, the statement said.

For ordinary people, sending greeting cards is one of the simplest and cheapest ways of telling someone that they remember and wish the recipient well, especially on special occasions like the Lunar New Year or anniversaries. Besides, there are e-cards which can be sent out for free. 

But officials who send thousands or even millions of these cards to their constituents and associates are spending huge amounts of public money to carry on a well-entrenched tradition.

More significantly, the ban is part of the government’s crackdown on waste, extravagance and graft, and addresses the links between lavish lifestyles and corruption in public life. For indeed, recipients of such greeting cards, including suppliers and contractors of government projects, may see such gesture of goodwill as a signal from the sender that they have to reciprocate, which could mean returning the favor with luxurious gifts or cash.

Since coming into power in March, President Xi Jinping {習近平} and Premier Li Keqiang {李克強} have made the campaign against extravagance and graft in the bureaucracy a major pillar of their administration in a bid to rebuild the people’s trust and enhance social stability. 

Xi has branded corruption a threat to the party’s survival and vowed to go after powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.

In line with the new leadership’s policy, the Organization Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in early November issued a set of guidelines on how officials, both incumbent and retired, should behave to prevent corruption and eliminate conflicts of interest.

Under the new rules, incumbent officials should not hold concurrent posts or work full-time in enterprises unless their official duties require such work, in which case such concomitant work is subject to strict examination and approval.

To avoid conflict of interest with their old office, retired officials may not work in businesses within their former jurisdiction or engage in profit-making activities related to their former position within three years of leaving public service.

Such regulations are aimed at preventing under-the-table deals between officials and enterprises, such as a well-paying consultancy job for the retired official in exchange for granting the enterprise a major government contract.

The Xi-Li administration has set ironclad rules to pursue its anti-graft campaign, but implementing those rules and monitoring compliance will be a huge challenge.

– Contact the reporter at jeffpao@hkej.com

CG

EJ Insight writer

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