Warning on misuse of subsidy for poor
Vivien Pik-kwan Chan
Central authorities have warned provincial governments against embezzling or misappropriating the 4.6 billion yuan (HK$4.3 billion) allocated from state coffers for poverty-stricken urban residents.
The amount, to be provided to deprived urban residents in the form of subsidies to bridge the gap between their income and the official minimum living standard, is double last year's allocation of 2.3 billion yuan.
The surge in the contribution from the central Government indicates that the number of unemployed urban residents living in poverty has been rising rapidly despite repeated claims by central and local authorities that many laid-off workers have been re-employed.
The minimum living standard set by Chinese authorities varies between cities, but on average it is about 100 to 150 yuan a month for central and remote provinces, 200-250 yuan for more developed provinces and 285 yuan for Beijing.
The Government introduced the minimum living allowance in 1997 as the basic urban social security safety net after state enterprises started massive lay-offs amid market reforms.
The plan requires provincial governments to contribute funds to subsidise poverty-stricken families if their income fails to meet the minimum level.
But disgruntled laid-off workers have complained of delayed payment or even the absence of such assistance in certain areas, especially in central and western provinces that are in financial difficulty.
Civil Affairs Ministry officials said the funds were dispersed to local governments last month and an emergency joint circular had been issued by the Finance and Civil Affairs ministries demanding that the money be given to needy urban residents before the end of this month. 'Among the 19.38 million urban residents qualified for the subsidies, 18 per cent, or 3.467 million, have yet to receive any,' said Wang Zhikun, director of the relief division of the Anti-Disaster and Relief Department of the Civil Affairs Ministry.
'More than one-third of the qualified residents in Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang and Hunan have failed to get their subsidies.'
The situation in the provinces of Yunnan, Jiangxi, Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin is not much better.
'Inspection teams consisting of Finance Ministry, State Council general office and Civil Affairs Ministry officials were sent to Yunnan, Heilongjiang and Jiangxi yesterday to check if the money had reached the needy,' Mr Wang said.
Protests by laid-off workers over economic hardship have become a daily issue in central and northern provinces.
Chinese leaders are anxious to keep the lid on urban and rural unrest in a bid to maintain stability ahead of the 16th Party Congress this autumn, when major leadership changes are expected.
'In the future, inspection teams will be sent to provincial governments every three to six months to check their balance sheets on basic living allowance payments,' Mr Wang said.
'Local officials will be severely punished for embezzlement of the fund or for dereliction of duty if there are further complaints of delayed payment of relief allowance.'
Official figures say the total number of urban unemployed is just 6.8 million, which is about 3.6 per cent of the urban working population.
However, analysts say this figure grossly underestimates the real situation.
The millions of workers who have migrated from rural areas to urban centres are not covered by the policy.