07/11/2005, 00.00
CHINA

China's first property law drafted

Agricultural land can be seized only if it is in the public interest and after proper compensation is paid, but loopholes in the draft law leave things open to abuse.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Beijing has published its long-awaited draft on the first comprehensive legislation on property rights. The text recognises private property rights and compensation should property be expropriated.

Some observers are hopeful that should the bill become law "it might reduce social unrest in the countryside where people have been subjected to virtual land confiscation". But, the law contains loopholes that might still lead to abuses by local officials.

By the end of June, the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) deliberated on the draft law on property rights for three times.

Since yesterday, the text of the draft is available online and citizens can offer their opinions on the draft law until August 20. Afterwards, the Commission will revise it in light of citizens' opinions and submit the revised draft to a fourth deliberation. It will then go to the next plenary session of the 10th NPC, which I scheduled for March, for the fifth and final deliberation before voting.

This legislation will represent the first formal recognition of private property rights in the People's Republic. It is especially important for China's farmers who would be granted the right of compensation when their land is seized in the public interest.

In recent years, managers of state-owned companies have taken over properties for personal gain rather than in the public interest, thus causing mass protest.

Under the new law, citizens could turn to the courts to protect their property rights and sue on civil, administrative and even criminal grounds those who violate them.

For many analysts however, the draft law has too many loopholes that could lead to abuses.

"Protecting property rights is a way to foster China's development, which is driven by the private sector. And protecting such rights is the basic step to the rule of law and the building of a democratic country," Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based political scientist, said.

"Despite a clause stating that people would be 'reasonably compensated' and 'accommodated' during demolition or the taking over of properties," Professor Hu said, "the terms remained vague".

"What is reasonable compensation and proper accommodation? And [what about] the needs of the public interest? Some officials use public interest as an excuse for forced evictions for their own good," he noted. And with many loopholes, the risk of social unrest rises.

For Hu, the ultimate solution to protecting private property lay in an independent judiciary and a government that was answerable to the people. 

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