China bans use of public funds to buy New Year party items

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's ruling Communist Party has banned officials from using public funds to buy new year celebration items ranging from alcohol to fireworks, in Beijing's latest step in a crackdown on waste and graft.

The order extends to New Year's Day and the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, as it is widely known in China, state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday, citing the party's anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

"During the festivals, the scenario of using public funds to give gifts is widespread, an improper atmosphere is prevalent, the masses have expressed strong opinions," Xinhua said.

Flowers, food and tobacco are the other items officials are barred from buying with public funds.

The order covers government and party departments, state-owned enterprises and financial institutions, although an exception will be made for people who want to "console" others and employees in financial difficulties, Xinhua said.

During the Lunar New Year, many Chinese set off fireworks and firecrackers over the one-week period, filling the sky at night with brightly coloured explosions and smoke.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought to address growing public anger at the illegal or unethical behaviour of party officials, especially those with flamboyant lifestyles, often seen as a sign they are corrupt.

Since taking office in March, Xi has called corruption a threat to the party's survival and vowed to go after powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies".