This year will be one of reforms, Premier Wen Jiabao reportedly told a panel of CPPCC delegates on the eve of delivering his Government Work Report on Saturday. Mr Wen uttered the word 'reform' 87 times in his report, ranging from state-sector reforms to banking reforms to taxation reform to the reform of government bureaucracy. It's about time. Effective means to reform and curb the regulatory powers of the central government and local authorities are certainly needed. When Mr Wen became premier in March 2003, he made a similar vow to push ahead with various reforms. But the pace of reform has been slow and overall results moderate because he was preoccupied with fighting Sars in 2003 and clamping down on runaway investment last year. One of Mr Wen's biggest achievements last year was the significant turnaround in agriculture. Grain output for 2004 totalled 469.45 million tonnes, up 38.75 million tonnes on 2003. Meanwhile, the average farmer's annual income rose by 6.8 per cent to 2,936 yuan, the highest growth rate in recent years. The bumper harvest was the combined result of increased government investment and subsidies, the abolition of the agricultural tax and - equally as important - good weather. This has greatly boosted confidence in the Wen administration's ability to tackle agricultural problems better than its predecessors. He announced more financial help for farmers this year and said the nationwide abolition of the agricultural tax would be completed next year, two years ahead of schedule. In his report, Mr Wen declared that macroeconomic controls had achieved significant results in cooling down overheating sectors, ensuring the economy grew by only 9.5 per cent last year instead of the double-digit growth rate feared by many. The reality, though, is that the results were mixed, with the private sector hit hardest by harsh administrative measures. Another serious side effect is that central government ministries and local authorities have acquired more administrative and regulatory power. The most notable example is the National Development and Reform Commission, which is evolving into a super ministry with its hand in many main industries. This has invited heavy criticism from enterprises, local authorities and even other central government ministries. Mr Wen's government is under increasing pressure to break government monopolies this year. Another reform which should be on the top of the agenda is a streamlining of bulging government payrolls. This is particularly important in rural areas, where village and township officials often fatten their salaries through extortion. Ren Yuling, a CPPCC member and an adviser to the State Council, said farmers had been paying the salaries of 13 million Communist Party and government officials working for county-level and lower-ranking authorities. Nationwide, 50.72 million officials are on government payrolls, meaning there is one official for every 26 mainland residents - 35 times higher than in the last days of the Qing dynasty, when corruption was believed to be at a historic high. The bloated government payroll has led to excessive red tape, widespread corruption and a huge waste of money. Mr Ren said the government spent 300 billion yuan a year to cover officials' transport costs, 200 billion yuan on their entertainment costs and 250 billion yuan on their overseas trips. In contrast, the central government's total agricultural investment last year, designed to benefit 800 million farmers, was a mere 262.6 billion yuan.