A matter of resolve

Updated: 2011-12-14 07:56

(China Daily)

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The question of who should fund school buses is still dangling in the air, despite the central government's reiteration that financial support for the purchase and operating of such vehicles will come from the coffers of both central and local governments.

Experts estimate that 300 billion yuan ($47.1 billion) may be needed to purchase school buses for all primary and middle schools and that the annual cost of operating them will be 150 billion yuan.

The expenditure on education is 3.48 percent of the nation's GDP and the government revenue - which was more than 10 trillion yuan from January to November - is about 20 percent of GDP, so at most 1.7 trillion yuan can be spent on education. If the buses are all purchased at once they will consume almost one-fifth of the total expenditure on education.

However, the draft document, which is soliciting public opinion until January 11, says that the government has three years to finish the task, so the spending can be spread over the next three years, which should not be too big a deal for the government whose year-on-year increase in revenue is more than 20 percent.

What this means is: It is not so much a matter of financial capability as a matter of resolve.

For instance, Deqing county in East China's Zhejiang province spent 20 million yuan on purchasing school buses beginning in 2009, now its 79 school buses provide a service for more than 5,000 primary and middle school students countywide. Each student pays 2 yuan for a return trip and the county government provides nearly 5 million yuan a year to subsidize the service.

If a government is determined to do it, it can certainly save money elsewhere, for instance, the spending on vehicles for official use or government buildings.

There is certainly room for both the central and local governments to slash unnecessary spending on sangong - official overseas visits, the purchase and maintenance of government vehicles and government-sponsored receptions. For example, the expenses for public receptions were more than 600 million yuan for the taxation authorities nationwide in 2010. Even the Chinese Academy of Sciences spent more than 90 million yuan on public receptions in 2010. It is common for a central government department to squander several million yuan in this way. If frugality is practiced in a reasonable manner, it should not be too difficult to cut spending considerably in this regard.

Even if it is not realistic for the time being to provide the buses necessary to serve every school, it should not be difficult to fund such services for those poor kids in remote mountainous areas, who are most in need of safe travel to and from schools.

(China Daily 12/14/2011 page8)