A township official in Xuchang, Henan Province, has been suspended from his post for being involved in a case that saw the township government owing more than 700,000 yuan ($115,080) to a restaurant.
"A total of 700,450 yuan was paid to me on Friday," Geng Weijie, the owner of a local restaurant, which is famous for its pork trotters, told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that Han Junhong, the secretary of the township Party committee, had also apologized to him.
The city and county discipline inspection commissions have launched a joint investigation into the case, which resulted in Han's suspension. Li Yanfeng, the director of the publicity department of the Wangluo township, Xiangcheng county in Xuchang, told the Global Times on Sunday that the results of the investigation would be publicized.
Geng's story became national news after it was exposed by Sina Weibo user Monkey-D-Basketball on China's Twitter-like platform Thursday.
"I had no other way but to put up banners with details of the debt outside my restaurant in an attempt to recover the money," 42-year-old Geng said, adding that he had asked the government for his money several times but they had not paid him.
As the designated restaurant for receptions, most of the public banquets of the township government were held in Geng's restaurant.
However, he was not paid cash and the government instead kept a tab or paid with IOUs, Geng added.
The account was supposed to have been paid in installments, but sometimes the government did not pay back the money due to cash flow difficulties, Zhao Zhanhong, office director of the township government was quoted as saying by The Beijing News.
Geng has accumulated hundreds of IOUs since 2011, when Han took office, totaling around 700,000 yuan, said Geng, who had to close his restaurant due to the problem.
This works out to about 639 yuan being spent every day by the township government, which prompted Net users to scrutinize banquet spending.
"Every local government spends similar amounts on receptions," Han said, adding that the banquets, which can not be avoided, are held when hosting officials with a higher rank during their inspection tours in the town.
It's very common and even part of a set of "hidden rules," which require local governments to hold banquets as opportunities to improve relations with higher departments, Wang Wenzhang, a professor at the Institute of Social Development at Peking University, told the Global Times Sunday.
This year, the central government issued rigorous regulations banning government agencies from using public funds on lavish banquets in the fight against corruption.
Wang said that the austerity drive is working well, as the public is seeing fewer officials embezzling or wasting public money, and fewer lavish dinners, but these policies will not have a long-lasting effect in terms of combating corruption in the long term, as this case had demonstrated.
As high banquet costs have triggered widespread public anger, the introduction of another new ban on banquets from the Hunan provincial government prompted local officials to flock to hold banquets before the ban takes effect in November 1, China National Radio reported on Sunday.
The regulation said that officials who can not accept the ban should resign their post.
"This new ban is a sound idea to restrain local officials from accepting bribes via banquets for their family members," Wang said.