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Local Officials' Wages Still Not Paid
A 9-month-long research project has unveiled that grassroots officials are still owed thousands of overdue wage payments across 26 provinces in China.

"Out of 188 counties in Hebei Province, officials in 136 counties are still owed overdue salaries; In Inner Mongolia, 80 counties; In Gansu Province, 59 counties..." said a document released by the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) General Office.

On the second day after it was sent to Premier Zhu Rongji, the State Council General Office informed all the concerned provincial governments through urgent dispatch to ask local governments to report updated statistics. They were also asked to ensure that salaries are paid on time.

"If the problem of these overdue salaries cannot be solved, the encouraging policy of 'rational salary preventing corruption' can hardly be implemented," said Yang Rudai, vice-chairman of the National Committee of CPPCC.

According to a study report made by the Economic Department of Special Committee of CPPCC, in 2001 in Shaoyang and Xinshao counties of Hunan Province, workers in some towns only received half-year payments or less for the whole year.

"It is hard to imagine how to arouse the officials' enthusiasm if they cannot be paid on time," said Xiao Wanjun, a CPPCC member who also took part in CPPCC investigations into the problem of overdue salary payments.

Xiao stated that the main reasons for the overdue payments of salaries were the decline in the price of agricultural products, the decrease of farmers' incomes and overdue tax.

Since 1997, nearly every major kind of farm produce appeared to be in oversupply and farmers found market prices spiraling downwards, making it difficult to sell their products.

Many local governments could not afford the increasing debt so began to place the burdens on farmers. Some cadres forced farmers to plant certain products without discussion and collected extra levies, according to CPPCC reports.

Various groups under the national committee, such as All-China Federation of Trade Union members held a seminar on ridding poverty in western provinces through private business.

The CPPCC National Committee sent an inspection team late last May to investigate the financial burden faced by farmers in Anhui Province, which was selected by the central authorities this year for a fee-to-tax reform on a trial basis.

The fee-to-tax policy is the latest measure to be adopted by the State Council to remove financial burdens on farmers.

The 11-member inspection team raised 10 major problems in implementing the policy to reduce the burden on farmers and came up with suggestions that could give farmers some relief such as a stricter observation of tax laws and policies.

The inspection team focused on farmers' opinions on the new fee-to-tax policy, hearing about their difficulties and investigating how the local governments have implemented tax-reduction policies for areas that have been devastated by natural disasters.

They have also reviewed how local governments handle farmers' requests on lightening their burden.

Chen Shuiwen, 55, a farmer in Jiaocheng County of the province, complained that current levies and taxes are linked directly with land which means more planting more tax.

"Some farmers do not want to farm any more," he said.

Only a few days later, his opinion was again voiced on the CPPCC General Office document which was sent to Premier Zhu Rongji and Vice-premier Wen Jiabao.

While on an inspection tour of Anhui Province in July, Zhu Rongji said the reform, which is underway on a trial basis in the province, will be a long and difficult job.

He urged local governments to eliminate the illegal charging of miscellaneous fees to lighten farmers' financial burdens.

(China Daily March 1, 2002)

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