Xinhua News Agency

Reforms to give power to the people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 May, 2004, 12:00am

To soothe rural anger over corruption, villagers will be able to scrutinise the performance of officials

Rural villagers will be given more power to keep an eye on their local governments as Beijing moves to calm simmering public anger over rampant corruption.

In a groundbreaking initiative to be announced soon, villages will be required to set up finance management committees to monitor how public funds are spent.

The role of existing village representative assemblies - which are formed by villagers to check the powers of local leaders - will also be strengthened.

Officials and academic sources said the changes aimed to curb the abuse of power by the elected village chiefs.

Complaints range from corruption, nepotism and land seizures to extortion and a lack of transparency in public finances.

'It is the most important document concerning rural democracy since 1998,' said an official source. 'The village election law in 1998 deals with the electoral procedures.

'But this document deals with the aftermath of elections - how villagers can monitor village chiefs after they are elected.

'It will outline practical measures to empower villagers with the right of supervision and ensure transparency of public finances.'

Under the new policy, village finance management committees will have the power to approve the reimbursement of officials' expenses. The village chiefs will also be required to make public the details of infrastructure projects.

Analysts said Beijing's efforts to create transparency and accountability in rural areas had so far fallen flat, causing increasing tension between village officials and village Communist Party members.

In some cases the conflicts have become violent.

The government is also alarmed by the huge number of petitioners arriving in Beijing and provincial capitals to air their grievances over local officials.

The Communist Party is concerned that angry villagers are turning on the party at the grass-roots level.

To highlight the importance of the planned reforms, the party's Politburo held a meeting yesterday to discuss how to improve village governance.

The meeting, chaired by party head and President Hu Jintao , determined that 'protecting farmers' material interests economically and respecting farmers' democratic rights' was a priority in building rural society, Xinhua reported.

The government planned to further improve supervisory mechanisms for rural governments, Xinhua said.

A rural expert said new regulations would be a huge step towards promoting village democracy - if they were properly implemented at the local level.

'At least farmers will have some central government documents to refer to if the village officials have done wrong,' he said.

The official source yesterday said the government would launch an extensive publicity campaign to inform rural residents of the changes.