Sunday, June 26, 2011

Persistent "Farmers' Burden"

During the 1990s, the "farmers' burden" became a major source of rural discontent after the central government began concentrating funding on cities and rural officials acquired a taste for fancy cars, office buildings and banquets. The cancellation of the "agricultural tax," slaughter tax, and taxes on special agricultural products during 2004-06 was widely trumpeted as relieving the "farmers' burden," but the problem hasn't really gone away.

Last week, seven government departments jointly issued an order to crack down on fees and assessments to prevent the farmers' burden from rebounding. Among the departments were the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Council's Dispute Resolution Office, and National Development and Reform Commission. The Ministries of Finance and Education were also sponsors since one of the concerns is spending on education and other rural public works projects. A similar document was issued last year.

In 2007 there was an article warning that officials needed to be on guard against a rebound of the farmers burden despite the elimination of the agricultural tax. As an example, the 2007 article cited a key "poverty county" of Henan Province where officials had constructed opulent office buildings costing 1 million yuan that were not paid for and officials moved into luxury residences. One of the reasons given for the rebound of the burden was "institutional inertia." "Because of bloated staffing and financial stress in some regions" farmers were still assessed excessive fees. Another reason given by the article was that some local officials thought the "farmers burden" problem was solved by eliminating the agricultural tax. So they let up on keeping watch on local officials.

The new notice orders officials to set up monitoring systems to watch over financial transfers, public works projects and education programs and to watch for unreasonable fees. It specifically forbids mandatory subscriptions to newspapers or other publications. It floats the idea of eliminating animal inspection and quarantine fees.

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