BEIJING, June 25 (Xinhua) -- Stealing poverty relief funds, embezzlement, luxurious overseas trips and feasts: the long list of malpractice exposed by auditors drew strong scolding from lawmakers here Wednesday.
Gu Shengzhu, member of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, used the word "startling" to describe the fact that, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report, 1.86 billion yuan (302 million US dollars) of central funds were falsely claimed by local governments or embezzled by officials.
"The NAO report gave us a good chance to go through the many problems of our fiscal system behind the favorable figures," Gu said at a panel discussion about the report at the top legislature's ongoing bi-monthly session.
Lawmakers were outraged that about 234 million yuan of poverty relief funds had been wrongfully used: over 18 percent of the funds in 19 audited counties.
"It is disgusting to have spent money intended to help the needy on dinners and junkets," Zhao Shengxuan, another NPC Standing Committee member.
The government should assess the impact of such behavior and put a stop to it, Zhao said.
After auditing 38 central government departments and 389 institutions attached to them, the NAO found malfeasance everywhere in the management of government funds and wrongdoing by government departments, public institutions and state-owned enterprises including eight banks.
The NAO named a number of departments. For example, a group from the China Geological Survey spent three days in Las Vegas during its trip to North America in January 2013 and reported that they were working in Canada.
Four departments and six subsidiary institutions, including the People's Bank of China, the central bank, spent a total of 2.67 million yuan on receptions. The Ministry of Culture and two public institutions embezzled 104 million yuan and spent 30 percent of it on gifts and gift cards and giving out allowances.
Besides outright misuse of public money, the NAO is concerned about efficiency of use. By the end of 2013, 32 central government departments audited had had almost 50 billion yuan idle in their bank accounts for more than a year and 836 million yuan of that had been there for more than five years.
"Most problems exposed by the NAO are not new. They have been repeatedly picked up by audits in previous years. Some of them just got worse," said Xin Chunying, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.
Xin suggested that two most effective ways to solve these problems are an updated budget law and strict implementation of laws and protocols.
The 1995 Budget Law is going through a major revision. The draft amendment has had its third reading and still does not satisfy lawmakers.
The NAO report highlighted several weaknesses that can be solved through legislation, Xin said.
"We should weave a finer mesh of laws. You can not expect to lock up a cat in a bullpen," she said.
The current Budget Law does not include all revenue and spending nor clearly delineates the authority of the central and local governments and departments, she said. Nor does it have detailed regulations on how to punish the wrongdoers.
The penalty for "serious" offenders -- those who break the criminal law -- is clear but the rules about how to punish lighter offenses remain vague and can be easily manipulated, she added.
Xin's fellow lawmakers also demanded the State Council and departments named in the NAO report give feedback on how they have corrected the problems.
Zhao Shengxuan suggested that the top legislature conduct special inspections on the problems exposed by the NAO report, especially on how the government implements related laws and protocols.
China's total government fiscal revenue will reach 13.9 trillion yuan this year with spending of 15 trillion yuan. The management of such large amount of money is closely related to the country's anti-corruption campaign.
Last year auditors uncovered evidence of 314 serious cases of "law and disciplinary violations" involving 1,100 people. (To stay up to date with the latest China news, follow XHNews on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/XHNews and Xinhua News Agency on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/XinhuaNewsAgency.)