Premier forswears past imperfect to present paper in future tense

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 March, 1999, 12:00am

The Premier's government report is long on forecast and planning for this year but short on review of last year's work.

The 32-page document surprisingly devoted only five pages to a review of the first year of work by the new Government. The remaining coverage is on plans and prospects for this year.

The review part, short of details and supporting figures to show the results of various reforms such as housing, central government streamlining, the grain purchase system and structural reform of the central People's Bank of China, revealed the Government was shy to admit it had barely reached the goals set last year.

Though Mr Zhu said reform targets, including the eight per cent economic growth rate, were basically met despite unexpected hardship caused by the Asian financial crisis, he failed to elaborate on his achievements.

The message of the report was ji nan er jin - strive ahead for reforms despite recognised problems.

As most NPC delegates suggested, Mr Zhu has demonstrated more determination than his predecessor Li Peng in pushing reforms and crushing corruption.

'He is very determined. I hope he can live up to his promise to launch massive irrigation projects and to provide us with the necessary resources to improve farming technologies,' said Pan Zhaohui, party boss of Panjia village in Gangwan county, Liaoning province.

Unlike former government reports which included financial and export targets in an overall economics section, Mr Zhu devoted two separate sections to financial and export reforms, detailing measures he will adopt.

The need to do so indicated that Mr Zhu took the two reforms very seriously. It also showed financial irregularities and under-performance in exports were critical.

Beijing sources said Mr Zhu recognised the need to channel more financial resources to support hi-tech industries and aim at a higher return for the national economy in the long run.

Aides have said that if part of Mr Zhu's huge investment for infrastructure projects last year were injected to high value-added technology industries, it should yield more positive results.

The Premier, under pressure to maintain stability in a year of sensitive anniversaries, has compromised in several reform areas.

Medical reform will be delayed until the second half of the year while the streamlining of civil servants at county and township levels will be put on hold until next year. The cuts of provincial government staff, starting this year, will also be carried out at a slower pace.

Bankruptcies of a number of debt-ridden financial investment institutions were put on hold. Leaders have warned against negative reports on the shake-up of financial institutions to prevent a run on banks.

Delegate Qi Yingcheng, from Inner Mongolia, said: 'Mr Zhu has sacrificed some reform momentum after taking in views expressed by local governments. It may take longer to trim local authorities, but the unemployment situation in some provinces is very difficult.' Hopes for political liberalisation and related reforms were quelled when Mr Zhu said democracy would only be promoted under the exiting grassroots mechanism such as the official workers' conferences of enterprises, urban neighbourhood committees and rural villagers' committees.