Project 211

Benefit levels to be set by 'jury'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am


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Chongqing's underprivileged will have their government benefits decided by their neighbours when the city rolls out a controversial new subsidy-approval system.

From late this month, applicants for benefits in the western municipality will be forced to submit a list of their expenses and personal financial details for public scrutiny, according to a Chongqing Civil Affairs Bureau official.

A jury-style panel of a dozen community workers, neighbours and, in some cases, district-level legislators will question the potential beneficiaries, scrutinise the information provided and vote on the applicants' eligibility for the monthly stipend.

Approval will require the backing of at least two-thirds of the panel's members. Applications will be processed by Chongqing's civil affairs authorities, who argue that the new practice is meant to fight corruption and indolence.

'There have been alarming cases uncovered about unscrupulous grass-roots officials handing out benefits as favours to cronies living well above the subsistence level,' the bureau official said.

'Surveys also indicate an over-reliance on the dole by some qualified beneficiaries who become reluctant to find a proper job. To address the maladies, we are trying to increase the transparency of the application and review process.'

Roughly 800,000 of Chongqing's 31 million people are covered by the subsidy system. The support varies from 155 yuan to 210 yuan a month per person, depending on the district. The recipients' statuses are subject to yearly review, which may be carried out on a quarterly basis under the new regulations.

But detractors of the practice have attacked the system as a clear-cut infringement of privacy.

'Forcing the exposure of private life to the public, for whatever ends, runs great legal risks,' said Liu Chunquan, a lawyer at the Beijing-based Guangsheng and Partners firm, which specialises in civil rights cases.

Mr Liu said that while the mainland did not have a privacy law, suits based on civil law statutes guarding basic human rights could easily undermine the Chongqing measure if any disgruntled applicants decided to lodge a complaint.

Ren Yuan, a professor at Fudan University's school of social development and public policy, agreed that the new system went too far, but said he sympathised with the rationale behind the plan.