Villagers gain powers to monitor officials
Josephine Ma in Beijing and Kristine Kwok
State Council responds to complaints over rural corruption and oppression
Villagers on the mainland have been given a greater say in supervising village committees and officials under a new document issued by the State Council.
The document, adopted by the State Council last month, was publicised by Xinhua yesterday. It contains six directives on how village committees should conduct their affairs, and details how villagers can monitor the officials and committees they elect.
It is the latest undertaking by the leadership of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to address the sannong question - the critical issues of village affairs, agriculture and peasants.
A lack of transparency, rampant corruption and oppression by village officials have been the focus of complaints by hundreds of thousands of rural dwellers for years.
Even Communist Party leaders have admitted that the tense relationship between villagers and local officials was undermining the party's rule in the countryside.
Xinhua said the document made it clear that the right of villagers to information must be protected, indicating that village committees will be expected to publicise their policies and decisions.
Areas which must be open to public scrutiny include officials' wages, use of state funds, implementation of family-planning policies, and the distribution of land and relief funds by the central and local governments.
Supervisory committees must also be set up in villages to ensure village committees publish the information they are required to. The document specifies that villagers can complain to the supervisory committees if they have doubts about published information.
The document calls for the establishment of finance committees - made up of members of the supervisory bodies - responsible for keeping an eye on village officials' use of funds and reporting to the village committees.
Rural residents are also urged to play a greater role in local affairs by standing in the elections for village committees, while the committees are instructed to follow democratic principles in carrying out their duties.
A large part of the document addresses the problems surrounding the operations of village committees. Direct elections have been introduced for village committees, but the experiment has encountered problems partly due to conflicts between elected representatives and officials appointed by township leaders.
Tong Zhihui, a researcher with Tsinghua University's NGO Research Institute, said senior leaders were trying to address these problems through the new document.
He said the document clarified the roles of party organisations, village committees and village representatives. But he cautioned that the creation of new organisations such as the supervisory and finance committees might actually lead to more conflicts between village officials and rural residents.