03/07/2006, 00.00
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Wen Jiabao criticised, more rights (and not only money) to farmers

Plans for a "new socialist countryside" do not guarantee farmers property rights and are in danger of failing because of graft and waste.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Some economists are less than thrilled about Wen Jiabao's proposals to pour billions of yuans into rural infrastructure. They are critical of the plans the Prime Minister presented yesterday to the National People's Congress; instead, they argue farmers and the rural poor need first and foremost to have their rights protected.

For Wu Jinglian, chief economist for the State Council Development Research Centre, the government's planned reforms dubbed "new socialist countryside" will fail because the real priority should be building a sound legal framework to protect the rights of the rural poor.

Wen's goal of investing 339 billion yuan in the countryside over the next five years is but an attempt to defuse the social unrest that has been growing in recent years as a result of China's city-skewed economic development.

Social tensions are direct consequences of unfair land and property expropriations that benefit village leaders in industrial plants, Mr Wu said. Hence, it would be more important to give countryside residents the legal means to fight for their rights rather than pour money into rural infrastructure.

A law on private property rights proposed two years ago was supposed to be voted at this year's National People's Congress (NPC) but has been delayed for further consultation.

Draft laws are usually reviewed two or three times before being passed, but the private property law has already been reviewed four times. Party conservatives are its main stumbling block.

Prof Sit Fung-suen, an NPC delegate from Hong Kong, criticised the idea of government funding for rural infrastructure calling it an "act of inefficient economic investment".

He said that only "local officials [will] reap the benefits because they [will] assign the projects to their relatives or friends and let local banks pay when the loans become bad debts."

Other critics noted that rural investment (339 billion for 800 million rural residents) is a drop in the bucket compared to China's budget and the bureaucracy's expenditures.

Ren Yuling, an adviser to the State Council, said last year the government spent 300 billion yuan a year to cover officials' transport costs, 200 billion yuan on entertainment costs and 250 billion yuan on overseas trips.

Such waste is due to China's mammoth bureaucracy. According to the China Youth Daily, the mainland has 39 civil servants for every US$ 1 million of GDP compared with 2.31 civil servants in the US

Similarly, Mr Ren noted that in 2003 administrative expenses accounted for 19.03 per cent of total national expenditure compared with Japan's 2.38 per cent and 9.9 per cent in the United States.

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