Public services sidelined by growth, say scholars

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 June, 2006, 12:00am

Policymakers must put people first, environment forum told

Beijing must abandon its relentless pursuit of foreign investment and pay greater attention to providing public services to address rising social discontent, a leading legal scholar has urged.

Jiang Ping, a former president of the China University of Political Science and Law, said the prolonged debate over the pace and direction of China's reforms had highlighted the government's failure to protect public interest.

'The review of [China's economic] reforms in recent years has reminded us that the insufficient supply of public goods has resulted in widespread dissatisfaction among the people and even mass [protests],' he told an environmental forum yesterday.

Professor Jiang said the government, which had been obsessed with investment and economic growth, should shoulder most of the blame for worsening pollution, and increasingly expensive education and health care - the main causes of the soaring number of street protests on the mainland.

'The change in roles [required by administrative reform] means the government must deal with the rising demand for public services rather than placing too much emphasis on how to attract foreign direct investment,' he said.

His views were supported by Ding Yuanzhu, a senior researcher from the National Development and Reform Commission, and Wang Canfa, an environmental expert at the China University of Political Science and Law.

Both Dr Ding and Professor Wang lashed out at the authorities' monopoly on policy-making.

Dr Ding, from the commission's Academy of Macroeconomic Research, said the lack of a democratic decision-making mechanism that involved all parties concerned - especially the public - should be addressed in the government-led administrative reform.

Professor Wang added that the government was wrongly using its role to oversee security and social equity to push for faster economic growth.

Professor Jiang warned that rampant environmental accidents and disasters, and revelations about the country's ecological degradation had seriously undermined the authorities' credibility.

'While forced evictions are caused by the government's pursuit of development, pollution - which has harmed public health - highlights the authorities' lack of accomplishment and affects its credibility,' he said.

More than 300 government officials, business leaders, scholars and NGOs attended the forum organised by the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) yesterday.

The forum, which focused on building an environmentally friendly society, heard a range of stark warnings exposing the extent of pollution and harsh criticism of the country's single-minded pursuit of economic growth.

National People's Congress vice-chairwoman Gu Xiulian, Sepa vice-minister Wang Yuqing , Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference vice-chairman Zhou Tienong and Song Jian , chairman of the All-China Environment Federation, an NGO under Sepa, also joined in the blame game yesterday.

However, Professor Wang said the forum only served to highlight problems that were already known to the public, and did not provide any real solutions.

He noted that an increasing number of government officials, especially at the central level, were becoming outspoken about the seriousness of the country's pollution.

Professor Jiang also criticised the local governments of Heilongjiang and Jilin over their handling of the aftermath of the pollution of the Songhua River last November.

'The pollution caused enormous damage to the local economies and agriculture, and no compensation has been given [to the people]. By whatever means, this is due to the connivance of the polluting factory,' he said.



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