The party secretary of a village in central China’s Gansu province was dismissed from his position after he had implemented a failed policy that “forced” villagers to buy mobile phones if they wanted to qualify for social relief, state media reported on Monday.
His initial argument was that owning a mobile phone would “raise their intelligence” and get them out of poverty, but he was later accused of colluding with a county telecoms provider to sell phone cards and mobile phones to villagers, China Network Television (CNTV) reported .
“[Villagers] need to know what’s going on in China. They need to be informed,” said the Zhangxian village party secretary Qian Caiping in the CNTV interview. “Some of them barely have any idea what went on at the 18th party congress.”
Although priced at a subsidised rate, each mobile phone reportedly costs about 200 yuan (HK$250) – a substantial amount for households in a county where GDP per capita is just 1,600 yuan per year, roughly half the national average. The “huimin card”, as it was called, charged 0.8 yuan per minute.
“It was difficult. I had to borrow money from my brother to buy the phone,” said villager Feng Yumei, in an interview with CNTV, CCTV's web-based TV channel.
Feng, who was suffering from heart disease and could barely make ends meet, said she was afraid that if she didn’t buy the phone, she would fail to qualify for dibao, a 100 yuan stipend for low-income rural households.
Asked what they thought about the new initiative, other villagers said they were not sure how the new plan would help them as most didn’t even know how to read, let alone use a mobile phone.
According to reports  from Xinhua, all the mobile phones have been returned and the problem has been “rectified”. The county’s party secretary has also issued a public apology to villagers.