New legislation has failed farmers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am

The newly amended agricultural law devotes a whole chapter to the protection of farmers' rights, but the legislation has been all but ignored.

The officials and experts engaged in heated debate about how to safeguard the rights of farmers seem to care little about the law.

Their indifference is a clear sign that such promises - even when they become law - have little credibility these days.

The way the law is written is impressive. In chapter nine, farmers are given the right to refuse to pay fees and penalties illegally imposed by local officials. Grassroots governments are also banned from collecting money from farmers for local projects or from taking over farmers' land without proper compensation.

However, experts doubt that the law has had any effect because only a few clauses come with penalties attached - meaning most of the rules aimed at protecting the rights of farmers are toothless.

Farmers would prefer to petition higher levels of government instead of filing a lawsuit against local cadres because the costs were too high, said Xu Yong, of the Central China Normal University's rural research institute.

But even if farmers managed to win a lawsuit and have local officials removed, the replacements would likely still demand fees because the root causes of corruption had not been addressed, said Wang Sangui, of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

'Some local cadres want to score political points by starting local projects. Sometimes they have to do so because higher-level governments set targets for the township and village cadres. To meet any of these targets, the farmers have to pay out of their own pockets,' Professor Wang said.

He said only an overhaul of public financing for rural areas could solve the problem as the existing system favoured city residents.