LEGISLATIVE measures aimed at stopping government officials pocketing education funds have apparently failed, with many teachers living in poverty due to deferred payments, official reports say. Although regional authorities have vowed to improve the living standards of teachers, many cadres were still putting their hands into the education till, the China Economic Times reported. 'Some regional government [officials] have embezzled the money earmarked for teachers' salaries in order to carry out development projects or purchase sedans for themselves,' the newspaper said. It said an estimated tens of thousands of teachers in 22 provinces or regions have not received salaries since the middle of last year. And teachers' incomes were the fifth lowest in China, the newspaper said, averaging about 400 yuan (HK$366) per month. The phenomenon ran counter to promises made in the Law on Teachers, implemented at the beginning of last year, which stipulates that teachers' incomes should not be lower than the average civil servant's wage. The newly-passed Education Law also said regional authorities should improve the working and living conditions of teachers. Nearly 90 per cent of teachers in Zhejiang said they were underpaid, according to a recent survey, and 66.5 per cent described 'insufficient income' as their greatest concern. In some poor provinces last year, such as Gansu, teachers' salaries were more than 2.7 million yuan in arrears. In Heilongjiang, beleaguered teachers from three schools were so desperate they had to strike to get their pay last month. Meanwhile, two education officials in Hunan Province have been punished for building fancy apartments that exceeded official limits. Ji Yigui, director of Hunan's provincial education commission, and Tian Weiquan, deputy director, lost their posts and received 'disciplinary demerits' for allowing the construction of the luxurious apartments, official newspapers including the People's Daily reported yesterday. Substandard housing is a major headache for many average Chinese, especially teachers. Public dissatisfaction with such advantages has led to a nationwide crackdown on abuses of power. The reports said the living space, interior decoration and cost of the apartments allegedly built under Mr Ji and Mr Tian's supervision vastly surpassed official limits. It did not elaborate on their punishment, but said the apartments would be turned over to public use. Another report said officials in Taiyuan, in Shanxi Province, have been ordered to return extra apartments they were holding illegally. And Xinhua (the New China News Agency) said a local newspaper, the Shanxi Daily, had published the number of a hotline for citizens to report officials' offences.