China's central government has dispatched a team of inspectors to some provinces in an attempt to put a stop to local government land grabs.
The Ministry of Land and Resources is targeting the municipal governments of Beijing and Xiamen, the northern province of Hebei and the southeastern province of Fujian.
"Empowered by the State Council, the inspectors will supervise local land use and administration and advise local governments to correct irregularities," said Gan Zangchun, the country's deputy land inspector-general.
However, the inspectors are not authorized to exert authority over local officials or interfere in their work, according to Gan.
The central government approved the establishment of a national inspection system to strengthen its control of local land use in July. The move came in response to increasing discontent in rural areas over arable land being expropriated by local governments for development.
"The system will make sure the central government's macro-control policies are effectively implemented by local governments," said Cheng Chengbiao, director of the planning office with the Department of Land and Resources of Fujian Province.
In the first 11 months of the year, China saw real estate investment rise 24 percent on the previous year to 1.64 trillion yuan (US$205 billion).
The government has issued new laws which will come into effect on January 1, 2007 and regulate land sales, raise land use taxes and compensation for people who have lost their land, and order land administrators to double fees for new construction projects.
However, local governments often help companies to get round the macro-control policies, lending their support to illegal investment projects in pursuit of economic growth.
Since 1999, local government involvement has been responsible for 20 percent of the country's illegal land use cases, involving 60 percent of the total land area which has been exploited illegally.
The central government has sent officials to 12 provinces to whip local governments into line and defiant local officials have been criticized and punished.
Earlier this month, a land official in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, was sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes and approving irregular land deals.
In September, a senior official from Henan Province was sanctioned for failing to stop the construction of an unapproved university campus occupying nearly 1,000 hectares of land in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital.
In August, the central government criticized the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regional Government for failing to put a stop to an unauthorized power station project.
"The efforts have contained the increase of large-scale illegal land use and development, but have yet to reverse the trend," said Chang Jiaxing, vice director of the Bureau of Law Enforcement and Supervision with the Ministry.
"The situation will be improved remarkably if the inspection system can curb the unlawful practices of local governments," said Chang.
(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2006)