Foreign affairs

How the internet is catching out government officials

Foreign affairs

An expense too far: Dubai's Burj

China’s public officials are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of a “human flesh search”. No Congolese vaccine required here, however, as the term refers to the publicity afforded to nonplussed bureaucrats who find themselves being exposed for some misdeed on the internet.

Earlier in the year, for example, Beijing News reported on the story of six officials from Hunan caught on camera dozing through an official meeting. The photos, which made their way online, led to all six being sacked.

Much of the online discussion of the case was sympathetic. The meeting had been convened to discuss 30 years of economic reform, and was not (in consequence) likely to be that stimulating. Indeed, it would be a bit like staying wide-eyed and perky through Strom Thurmond’s famed 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster.

However, there has been a lot less sympathy for Tan Rigui, a deputy party secretary from Duanzhou district in Guangdong. He was sacked after an online expose gave details of an overseas trip he led at the public’s expense. The $65,800 sojourn saw 13 local officials visit Africa and the Middle East. But rather than sign contracts or arrange FDI, they spent virtually the entire trip sightseeing, watching shows, and buying luxury goods, such as African diamonds. According to the China Daily the group ended their junket at the seven-star Burj Al-Arab hotel in Dubai.

However, Tan’s was not the first such junket to come to light. In December, four officials from Zhejiang province were punished for leading a 23 person jaunt to America. The $95,000 bill raised hackles, although it did cover a varied itinerary that included visits to Niagara Falls, Hawaiian beaches and the entertainment venues of Las Vegas.

The resulting publicity has now seen local officials banned from making overseas trips at the public’s expense. Xinhua reported this week that the State Council’s latest decree was designed to protect “the positive image of the party and government” and “better unify and lead the people to cope with the impact and difficulties caused by the global financial crisis.”

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