The jury is still out on Beijing's commitment to develop a knowledge-based economy, despite an unprecedented pledge from Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday to allocate 146.1 billion yuan (HK$165.9 billion) to the science and technology sector, up 25.6 per cent from last year. Of that budget, 20 billion yuan will go to support research and development by mainland enterprises, also a big jump from previous levels of government support. However, many Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegates from the science and technology sector openly expressed concerns about whether the money could be used fairly and efficiently - if the funds would fall into the hands of researchers at all. In his work report, Mr Wen said that a major task this year was to 'vigorously promote independent innovation and provide scientific and technological support to increase the sustaining power of development'. Tasks included: accelerating some key national science projects such as the development of computer technology, the space programme and transgenic crops; encouraging businesses to do more research and development; building a stronger and bigger equipment manufacturing industry; investing in emerging hi-tech industries; and 'bringing in high-calibre personnel and intellectual resources from overseas'. 'We will make technological innovation a pillar that boosts domestic demand, maintains economic growth, makes structural adjustments and raises the level of development,' Mr Wen said. CPPCC delegate Liu Jiyuan, a former director to the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, said Mr Wen's hope that science and technology would stimulate the economy might be overoptimistic. 'The government has signed a big pay cheque, but how to use the money, who would use the money and how effective it would be remain big concerns,' Professor Liu said. 'I am afraid that a substantial amount would be wasted.' He said mainland bureaucrats had rarely taken science and technology seriously. 'Take a look at our major national construction projects: can you find a scientist making key decisions?' Professor Liu said. 'The new budget seems to be a huge cake, but the fact that it will be divided by many government officials, most of whom specialise in neither science nor engineering, will result in much abuse and waste.' Institute of Atmospheric Physics researcher Huang Ronghui said the attitude of some public servants to scientists was almost intolerable. 'Even though we are respected experts of our field, [public servants] still order us to do this and that like commanders,' he said.