Opinion / Opinion Line

Opening-up the market for funeral services can eliminate corruption

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-31 07:52

Opening-up the market for funeral services can eliminate corruption

Employees display their makeup skills on a model at a funeral expo in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in November. Li Xi / for China Daily

AS TOMB SWEEPING FESTIVAL APPROACHES, corruption in State-run companies providing funeral services has become a hot issue. In Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, about 20 officials were arrested recently for corruption related to funeral services. Beijing News comments:

Among all the corruption cases, those involving funeral companies make us especially angry because that's a double breach of ethical standards, as not only is it cheating, it is cheating the bereaved. How can anyone cheat those who have just lost a loved one?

The law is clear about this. According to a regulation issued in 2012, funeral-related services should be non-profit making and local authorities are responsible for setting the prices.

However, the reality is, over the last 10 years, funerals have become one of the top 10 profit-making services. Funeral parlors sell cremation urns and shrouds at prices a dozen times higher than those in the market.

It is the same old problem that has caused this distortion of the market: a monopoly. Funeral services are monopolized by local State-run companies, which, without any competitor in the market, seek to gain from their power in hand. The Wuhan case best explains how power breeds corruption in the sector: of the about 20 suspects arrested, one is the deputy head of the local bureau of civil affairs, while nine are directors or deputy directors of funeral parlors.

Therefore, the prosecution of about 20 corruption suspects is far from enough to root out corruption surrounding funerals. In order to eliminate this, the State-run monopoly in the funeral market needs to be broken to allow more competitors to provide services.

Some might argue that funeral services should be a basic service provided by the government. If the State chooses not to marketize the funeral service sector, it is time for it to strengthen regulation of the industry, and provide enough transparent funding for it, so that funeral companies neither need nor are able to make excessive profits.

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