'Stamp out rural graft that hinders nation's progress'

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


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When Mr Zhu retires from the premiership in 2003, it is the millions of local officials across China who will determine whether history regards him as a hero or a failure.

In his work report, Mr Zhu made no attempt to hide his contempt for many of these officials whom he blames for the corruption and mismanagement that has kept China poor and backward.

He attacked the imposition of illegal fees, fines and money-raising tactics used by rural officials to enrich themselves and exploit farmers, which is a major cause of social unrest.

'Reduce the burden of the farmers and maintain rural stability,' he said, in a refrain repeated by Chinese rulers for centuries.

Such fees must be fixed at levels approved by central Government and held there for three years. They must be transformed into standardised taxes, said Mr Zhu.

'We must improve the way village officials work and they must work closely with the public. This year we want to raise more than 10 million people above the poverty line,' said Mr Zhu.

Local officials also hold the answer to another key policy of Mr Zhu - to kick-start the economy with a vast scheme of public spending that will take the budget deficit to 150.3 billion yuan (HK$139.7 billion), the highest in 50 years and 56 per cent more than last year.

The money is to be spent on irrigation, telecommunications, roads, railways and other badly needed rural projects, especially in central and western areas where the lack of good roads and telephones make businesses reluctant to invest.

'Increasing the budget deficit for such construction projects is not without risk. The issue is whether or not we use the money well. If we waste it and build redundant and poor-quality projects, we will increase the fiscal burden and cause serious inflation,' said the Premier.

He called for strict control and monitoring of the money, with checks through the approval process and officials to be held responsible for plans they approve, with the threat of dismissal or prosecution if they fail.