Online beggar directory a waste?
Is it worthwhile pumping millions of yuan into counting up the unknown numbers of vagrants on the streets?
Criticism has been mounting since the Ministry of Civil Affairs set up a national online e-management network for homeless people a few weeks ago.
The network, installed in more than 400 shelters across the country, has multiple functions including categorizing street people and facilitating cross-provincial aids for vagrants, according to the ministry.
Li Liguo, vice-minister of civil affairs, told the Beijing News at the launch that one of the main purposes of the database is to "effectively spot those who intentionally cheat social aid."
"As a result, the aid can be guaranteed for those who really need it," he said.
But the official interpretation has failed to convince the critics, who question the necessity of the network.
"Vagrants are an unstable group who roam through cities. To keep a record of them all is almost mission impossible. Therefore, such a project is simply a waste of money," pointed out Fu Xin, a critic with South China News two weeks ago.
He is also among the objectors who said they believe the network is all about image, since the misdeed of cheating social aids is currently not serious enough to deserve a solution valued at millions of yuan.
The money could be better spent on sheltering more homeless people, they said.
In response, the ministry insisted the network is a result of the ministry's increasing efforts to improve the social aid system.
"The government has the responsibility to shelter homeless people or help those who have difficulty returning home. In order to better honour this duty, we need to upgrade the service and its management," said Zhang Qi'an, a senior official with the ministry.
"It is not a waste of money. On the contrary, it is will lead to better use of tax payer's money."
Ministry statistics show that the 1,000-odd official shelters nationwide aided people more than 1.1 million times between August 2003 and June 2004.
"We are showing the public that any vagrant, if they want, will receive essential aid from the government," said Zhang.
"So I suggest the public should think twice before emptying their pockets for those street beggars, quite a number of whom are cheats or loafers."
In addition, people are warned to detach themselves from an increasing number of "e-beggars," who beg online.
Their plea for donations always follows a tragic story and ends with a bank account number.
China Beggars, one of the most famous begging websites, has about 400 such requests posted, with around 30,000 visits a day.
Though many interviewees said they would not believe online beggars, still a few people were moved and donated.
(China Daily 08/29/2005 page2)