China should audit fines paid for violating one-child policy
It did not seem possible that China's one-child policy could fall even further into question and disrepute. A probe by the National Audit Office has revealed rampant misappropriation by officials of fines on families who violate strict family planning rules. Guidelines released in 2002 say government enforcement agencies that collect the fines must remit them to local government treasuries for spending on public services used by the extra child. Hence they are officially called "social compensation fees". If ever a money trail called for a permanent transparent audit, this is it.
Following a check of 45 counties in eight provinces and Chongqing, however, it turns out that 1.6 billion yuan (HK$2 billion) in fines was retained by the enforcement agencies to be spent for unauthorised purposes, such as staff bonuses, receptions and departmental vehicle maintenance.
The one-child policy may get some credit for China's economic miracle. But it remains divisive, with a painful legacy of sex determination and abortion, distortion of the birth ratio in favour of boys, an ageing society and the prospect of millions of men without partners from their own society.
The mere suspicion that fines are being imposed to raise revenue is enough to aggravate resentment of a law - more so when it punishes a victimless act deemed to be an offence against the state, such as having a second child.
One of a group of more than a dozen lawyers who sought the audit said upper-level government often sets thresholds for local government agencies to rein in violations of the one-child policy and sets targets for the collection of fines.
Relaxation of the one-child policy, the economic implications of a consequent baby boom and ageing of the population are topics of debate on population policy. Meanwhile, the bottom line is that the fines must be put to family services as intended. We trust the National Health and Family Planning Commission is serious about shaking up the collection and management of fines and ordering planning departments to publish detailed data.