06/08/2006, 00.00
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Beijing admits to one million illegal land-use cases

The practice was denounced by China's Ministry of Land and Resources. The central government faces problems to stem the arbitrariness of local governments.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Local governments in China have been acquiring building land illegally for years, especially at the expense of peasants. This practice was denounced today by China's Ministry of Land and Resources.

The ministry referred to a survey into land development since September 2004, which found that in 15 major cities (which were not named), land had been illegally acquired in 64% of cases, and in some places this figure rose to 90%. The findings confirm the results of a survey covering the period between October 2003 and September 2004. Building and structural development has created a high demand for land, leading to a corresponding price hike.

The ministry wrote in its website: "Large volumes of investment are ending up in land, and a considerable number of projects use land that has been unlawfully acquired. Almost all serious land irregularities are linked to local governments."

From 1999 to 2005, said Zhang Xinbao, director of the supervision bureau, there were more than one million cases involving land-related irregularities. The ministry said local governments often changed land-use plans arbitrarily and denied compensation (or gave insufficient amounts) to peasants stripped of their land.

Experts say the central government is hard pressed to ensure that local administrations respect the law; this assertion is borne out by a request submitted last month by the Ministry to provincial administrators, to examine at least three related cases by the end of the month and eight before the year is out.

Wang Yukai, a professor in public administration at China's National School of Administration, said local governments depended on land-use rights deals to "fill their coffers", adding the central government's efforts to punish wrongdoers had been "feeble".

"Land sales are a main source of extra revenue [for local governments], so they are often seen paying farmers little and late for land acquisition," Professor Wang said.

Investment in the country's building sector shot up by 29.6% from January to April 2006, reaching 1.8 trillion yuan (around 225 billion US dollars); this spending is related above all to acquisition of land.

Now Beijing has charged the Supervision Ministry, the National Bureau of Statistics and the National Audit Office to tackle the problem.

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