Li Keqiang

Calls mount for debate on stimulus package

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am

Calls are mounting for more transparency over the mainland's ambitious economic stimulus package, as more details trickle out about its biggest ever public spending campaign.

The National Development and Reform Commission, the nation's top economic planner, has released more details of the central government's spending scheme for next year, the first in the two-year stimulus package that weighs in at a staggering 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.5 trillion), a Xinhua report said.

Dam and reservoir construction top the agenda for boosting rural infrastructure next year. Railway upgrades will focus on improving connections to the nation's coal mining strongholds, including Xinjiang and Gansu . Overhauling the passenger jet manufacturing industry and renovating school buildings will also be given priority in the public spending scheme.

But the latest release, like previous ones, lacked meaningful details and included no mention of any pending legislative approval.

'The continuing ambiguity and the absence of meaningful public debate over details of the scheme has highlighted fundamental flaws in China's economic decision-making mechanism,' said Li Weiguang , a professor of economics at Tianjin University.

'It could compromise the effectiveness of the policies.'

Xu Xiaonian , an economics professor with China Europe International Business School, appealed for discussion of the stimulus package during the National People's Congress on Saturday. 'Please, let the NPC have at least a read of the scheme first,' Professor Xu said, addressing an annual financial forum.

In theory the NPC and its Standing Committee did have the power to review and vote on central government spending, but in practice the decision was always in the hands of the government, said Professor Li.

The central government said it would spend about 1.2 trillion yuan of taxpayers' money for the scheme, leaving the rest to local governments, private investors and bank credit.

More open debate and scrutiny by lawmakers would help ensure taxpayers' money was used wisely and more efficiently, said observers from various industries.

For example, the central government has promised to build more sewage and refuse disposal plants. Environmentalists have suggested more taxpayers' money be steered towards building pipelines connecting factories and households with existing plants.

Private investors will not pay for pipelines as they do not generate revenue, they argue, but without sufficient pipelines plants will lie idle.

'If we have a public debate, let's say in a legislative session, we will have our voice better heard,' said an environment industry insider.

Meanwhile, top Communist Party officials, including President Hu Jintao , are travelling around the nation to boost morale in the face of a sharp economic slowdown, state media said, underscoring Beijing's apprehension over the crisis.

Mr Hu visited a job fair and steel mill in Liaoning yesterday, China Central Television reported, while Vice-Premier Li Keqiang , on an inspection tour to Shanghai, urged officials there to sustain economic growth in the mainland's financial capital.