Members of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body, held special panel discussions Saturday on the work of the State Council, China's cabinet, in 2004. The members heard Premier Wen Jiabao deliver the work report as nonvoting delegates to the Third Session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC).
The CPPCC members expressed satisfaction with the government's work concerning agriculture and farmers. They also made suggestions for improvements in the year ahead.
Li Dehong, a CPPCC member who is vice secretary-general of the People's Government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said, "It is good for the premier's report to encourage farmers to seek employment, to provide labor services or start their own businesses to boost their incomes. But more efforts are still needed to implement the policy and to improve their employment and business environment."
Li said that the surplus rural labor force in Xinjiang numbers 2 million, only half of whom have been able to find work outside their villages. Most of those who have found jobs are working in labor-intensive industries producing low-value-added goods, and therefore receiving low wages.
He praised the central government plan to allocate additional funding to agricultural science and technology and development of rural infrastructure, noting that there is a dire need for such expenditure.
While pleased to hear that poverty alleviation had been set as a top priority for the government in the year ahead, Li said that he believes existing criterion of average annual per capita income of 627 yuan (US$76) to define poor families is too low.
Attention to the rural situation is a crucial part of building a harmonious society, said Li. "In Xinjiang, I often hear of conflicts breaking out between farmers or herders over disputed land, water resources, grasslands and forestry. For us, the idea of building a harmonious society means working for the unity and common prosperity of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang."
Fang Zhiyuan, a CPPCC member who is a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), applauded such successes as a rebound in grain production and a significant increase in farmers' incomes resulting from the government's efforts last year. However, he noted that while reform brings benefits, it can also create new problems.
He pointed out that many agricultural research institutions are facing financial problems. CAAS, for example, withdrew government funding from about half of its 39 research institutes. Most of these were finding it extremely difficult to continue operating, with most available funds going to pay retiree pensions and sustain minimal operations.
"Moreover, as this is the last year of the 10th Five-year Plan for national economy and social development, we need ensure smooth transition of research projects to the next five-year period staring next year."
Qu Zhenyuan, a CPPCC member and the Communist Party secretary of China Agricultural University, said, "I think the 70 agricultural higher education institutions and 370 agricultural secondary schools should play a bigger role in promoting rural development to bridge the yawning wealth gap between the cities and the hinterland. The mission also requires accelerated reforms of education and domicile systems."
Qi Lin is a CPPCC member who is vice director of the General Office of State Council's Three Gorges Project Construction Commission. Qi said, "I think the State Council has done a good job in the past year, which is recognized by the people. However, more work still needs be done by local and grass-roots governments as well as central government, especially in environmental protection and narrowing the income gap."
He also said the government needs to raise salaries of public servants while cutting redundant grass-roots government employees at and below the county level.
Qi noted that in recent years too much power has been going to lower-level government planning departments, which is discordant with the country's transformation from planned economy to a market one.
In addition, he urged tougher and fairer measures to fight corruption, which he said is spreading from government economic agencies and state-owned companies to judicial and Party organizations.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Chen Chao, March 6, 2005)