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Reform raises the stock of farmers
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-18 05:45

A reform introduced in 2003 scrapping agricultural tax has not only lessened the burden on farmers but also improved rural democracy, according to Chinese researchers.

The measures have prevented rural cadres indiscriminately collecting funds and encouraged farmers to have a say in self-funded infrastructure projects.

"Villagers finally obtained the right to decide for themselves after the reform," said Han Jun, department director and senior expert of policy making under the State Council Development and Research Centre.

Before the reform, besides officially-approved taxes, village and township cadres were believed to levy additional fees of around 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) every year.

The money was pumped into various schemes, including building infrastructure facilities and paying the wages of rural cadres.

But there was no effective supervision for fund allocation, according to Han.

After the tax-scrapping reform was launched in 2003, the central and provincial governments promised to transfer capital to support local finance and forbade rural cadres from raising money under the guise of levying agricultural taxes.

Now when local governments need to collect funds to develop infrastructure for farmers, such as roads, they must inform farmers of where the money will be spent and follow certain procedures.

The practice of "one issue, one discussion and vote" has become increasingly popular among China's rural communities. It allows farmers in a community to take part in the decision-making process for the first time.

The decision by villagers to build a 3-kilometre hill road recently in Tongjiang County, a poor, mountainous area of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, was an example of this grass-roots activism.

After hearing of the planned design of the road, the majority of the 100 residents of the county's Chengzishan Village voted for the project, which would link them with the outside world.

They all agreed that each resident should donate 20 yuan (US$2.4) and build a 5-metre section of road.

"This is an excellent example of farmers participating in their own affairs after the scrapping of the tax," said Zhang Haoliang, head of a non-governmental poverty research organization based in the county.

He said farmers in his county have become active in supporting rural infrastructure projects, given they are now free of the levy and encouraged to have a say.

Previously, heavily-taxed rural workers were forced to take part in infrastructure projects, and often, farmers were charged nearly 300 yuan (US$36) a year.

The practice of "one-issue, one discussion and vote" should be promoted among farmers because it offers them a channel through which to voice ideas and take part in their own affairs, said Zhang.

In his county, more than half of the 500 villages cannot be reached by road and nearly one third of its 630,000 residents do not have access to clean drinking water.

Wang Yong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, praised the practice and pleaded with farmers to address their more pressing problems.

But he warned that if the practice was abused by local governments, the burden on farmers would once again increase.

"So what we need to do is to ensure the entire decision-making process is open and transparent, to reflect the willingness of farmers in a community," said Wang.

(China Daily 04/18/2005 page1)

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