Netizens mock failure to curb house prices

Updated: 2007-02-06 19:53

Widespread mockery of an alleged promise by the Ministry of Construction (MOC) to punish local authorities if they fail to curb soaring housing prices has been dominating a leading Chinese Internet forum.

The Beijing-based China Economic Weekly, affiliated to the People's Daily, the Party's newspaper, reported in its latest issue that the ministry would monitor the extent to which local governments implement central government macro-control policies in mapping out housing construction plans in the first quarter of this year.

According to the report, the ministry vowed to hold local authorities accountable in cities where housing prices were spiraling out of control, small-and medium-sized homes fail to make up 70 percent of new housing and many problems remain unsolved in resettlement of residents. Plans to develop low-rent apartments which are affordable to low-income families would also be examined by the ministry, it said.

However, the seemingly good news did not gain public favor when it was posted on China's biggest portal website in the early hours of Monday morning, drawing over 1,200 online comments in 12 hours, with the vast majority of them ridiculing the ministry's promise.

"The problem is not how to prevent housing prices from rocketing, but when to force them down," said one Internet user.

"Don't blame local authorities once they fail to stop the prices rising. Bring them to account now; otherwise the ministry is not serious," said another.

It is widely believed the reason why low-income families have limited access to affordable housing is that some local governments rely on the lucrative property industry to bolster their revenues.

Housing prices in 70 major Chinese cities rose an average 5.5 percent last year despite measures being taken in the second half to curb the price hike, including higher taxes on urban land use and depriving local governments of the right to spend the money from land sales.

Beijing was home to the fastest growth in house prices with a rise of 10.4 percent.

Other users accused the MOC of trying to pass the buck.

"The ministry has no right to bring a local government to account - it should not shirk responsibility," said a forum user.

The MOC told Xinhua amid growing grumbles that the report was not accurate, saying blaming and demanding an explanation from a local government goes beyond the ministry's authority.

"The problem will not be solved unless the government taxes people possessing more than one apartment heavily, cracks down on speculation on the property market and requires property developers to make their construction costs known to buyers," said another.

All this involves government agencies like the State Administration of Taxation, the National Development and Reform Commission and the MOC to make real efforts to curb the price hike.

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