A cleaner wipes the toilet and the washstand with a towel. Then she picks up a coffee cup and wipes it with the same towel.
The scene features in an 11-minute video clip uploaded on November 14 by a micro-blogger, surnamed Wu, who has 320,000 followers. He says in the video that it is an “open secret” that hygiene is a casualty in Chinese hotels, including some five-star ones.
Titled “#secret of the cup”, the post has been read a staggering 300 million times on microblog and exposed a major scandal in the domestic hotel industry.
On Tuesday, Shanghai health authorities announced they had fined seven of the city’s five-star hotels involved in the scandal 2,000 yuan (Bt9,350) each.
The leniency of that penalty triggered a new round of fierce debate among China’s netizens. Even the prosecutor-general of Tangshan city in Hebei province said sarcastically: “Trust your eyes the fine is really 2,000 yuan, not 20,000 or more.”
Most of the 7,000 responses to the issue on the microblog questioned the low amount of the fines. Only a very few supported the move.
The netizens had reason to question the paltry penalties: the websites of the seven hotels involved show 2,000 yuan is less than the tariff for a single room for one night. At one of the hotels, Shanghai’s Bvlgari, the cheapest room is 4,940 yuan per night – more than twice the cost of the fine it was made to pay.
Yet it would be unfair to blame the scandal on the Shanghai health department. As the authority with jurisdiction in this case, they levied the heaviest penalty authorised by the law. According to the Regulation on Clean Public Spaces, a hotel can be fined a maximum of 2,000 yuan for failing to properly clean its rooms, including restrooms. Only if it refuses to remedy the situation can it be fined up to 20,000 yuan.
The standard was set in 2011, and has remained unchanged since then. That’s partly why the fine of 2,000 yuan seems absurd.
The outdated hotel penalty is a reminder that other standards in China also need to be revised.
One is the “single-child allowance”. For many years, couples with only one child have received an allowance as reward for their contribution to the national family planning policy. The allowance was 60 yuan a year, or 5 yuan a month, in 1982 when it was started. It was considered attractive in the 1980s, when the average monthly salary for working people was less than 100 yuan. Yet the standard has remained basically unchanged till now, though the one-child policy was withdrawn in 2014. It is hard to believe such a small amount of money could have had any “encouraging” effect on single-child couples.
Many of China’s regulations and laws are drafted by administrative departments and then publicised to solicit public opinions before being submitted to the legislature for approval. This shows the responsibility of updating them does not rest with legislators alone.
Administrative departments that draft the regulations should bear the responsibility of reviewing them annually and making revisions if required.
Meanwhile the legislature has a responsibility to supervise the administrative departments more rigorously so they update the regulations, without being influenced by their own narrow interests.
To take another example, in November 2014, the national tobacco ban draft was publicised to solicit public opinions. More than four years later, the draft is yet to see the light of the day. Reports indicate tobacco corporations are opposed to a total ban. Although there is no information about whether the tobacco companies are influencing the issue, at least the legislature should strengthen its supervision to ensure the draft turns into law.
In other words, the legislature as well as the administrative departments that draft regulations need to make more efforts to update laws and regulations to better suit the times.