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Fees Plan Aims to Lighten Rural Burden

China News Digest, 31 August 2001

[CND, 08/31/01] The Chinese government has put forth a plan to help lighten the burden on the country's poor farmers, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday from Beijing.

The central government noted that current income inequality in the countryside may have been behind recent rural protests and some significant criminal cases, according to the a report published in the People's Daily.

Vice-Premier WEN Jiabao laid out the new seven-point plan at a State Council video-conference.

Offering to farmers a system of three years without change in the overall level of fees levied, the Vice-Premier pledged to implement strict controls on fees paid by farmers, saying they should not exceed the level calculated in 1997, or the level proposed last year of five per cent of a farmer's average annual income.

School fees can be particularly onerous for rural families. Children in rural areas often abandon their education because their parents cannot afford the school fees, which sometimes have additional costs added by the local schools or government.

The Vice-Premier's new plan will now require elementary and intermediate schools in poor rural areas to adhere to a unified fee system.

The new fee system states that the cost of school textbooks and other expenses must not exceed 115 yuan - or 60 yuan for infant school students - per term, and forbids schools to charge for any other equipment or services.

Furthermore each provincial government will decide how much cadres on a local level may spend, in accordance with that area's needs.

The plan also encompasses electricity and building fees. Villagers will now pay the same rates for electricity as do urban dwellers. Currently electricity is often significantly more expensive in rural areas.

The new plan also bans any construction fees for farmers who live on collective land and want to build their own home.

Recently rural protests have frequently focused on the numerous local taxes levied on farmers. When these taxes and fees are implemented by corrupt local government officials as a form of supplemental income for themselves, they do not result in extra revenue for the state or in improved local services.

At its video conference the State Council called for more transparency and easily available information concerning what legitimate taxes the farmers would likely be charged on agricultural products and by-products.

Finally the plan promises to reduce taxes in poor and disaster-struck rural areas based on a calculation of how much hardship the local residents face.

All tax reductions would then be calculated by the central and provincial governments, the People's Daily reported. (Laurel Mittenthal)