03/15/2006, 00.00
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Farmers unhappy with results from National People's Congress

Migrant workers are disillusioned with "New Socialist Countryside" plans which will be blocked by corrupt village leaders.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The "New Socialist Countryside" initiative, the development plan launched by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the National People's Congress, has found little support amongst farmers and migrant workers who are increasingly sceptical about the government's promises.

The five-year plan approved yesterday sets aside 339 billion yuan (more than US$ 33 billion) for investments in roads, drinking water, gas mains, schools, hospitals and telecommunications.

The initiative, seen as ground-breaking in terms of development strategy hitherto centred in cities, should improve the situation for China's 800 million farmers and reduce growing social tensions.

At Beijing railway station, crowded with migrants from rural areas, there is however little appetite for Wen's proposals.

"What he said is illusory and impractical," a farmer from Hunan province remarked. "We have heard so many beautiful pledges but never seen the promises come true."

Wang Shifang, another migrant worker from Hunan, said he doubted whether the "New Socialist Countryside" concept would work.

"In our village, there are so many local regulations, with local officials putting all their efforts into collecting funds, although the central government said that the agricultural tax is to be cancelled," he said.

A farmer from Henan said she and fellow villagers tried to complain to Beijing about the seizure of land by local officials, but failed. She said she and her husband had been detained by police many times. "I do not trust our government at all because the police arrest us when we are just exercising our rights to petition, which is written in the constitution."

However, some farmers said they believed Premier Wen was different from local officials.

Zhou Qiuliang, a migrant worker from Yancheng in Jiangsu, said a good premier was one who showed concern for farmers. "Premier Wen has shown he cares for us, which we welcome," he said. "I can save 800 yuan a year because of the abolition of the agricultural tax."

"But the village government has introduced more fees that put an extra burden on farmers and will offset the benefits of abolishing the agricultural tax," Mr Zhou said.

Scholars and consultants are also among the government's critics. They note that the proposed investments in the countryside is ridiculous (for 800 million people) compared to the total Chinese budget (and the bureaucracy's expenditures).

According to Ren Yuling, a consultant with the Council of State, the government spends every year 300 billion yuan on public officials' travel expenses, 300 billion on entertainment expenses and 250 billion on foreign trips.

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