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We need smart and powerful watchdog to strictly supervise anti-poverty work

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-01 08:47
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Farmers collect apples in Ansai district of Yan'an. Apple cultivation plays an important role in the city's poverty alleviation efforts. [Photo provided To China Daily]

Editor's Note: China is set to realize its target of eliminating absolute poverty by the end of this year. What are the factors behind China's imminent success? In the 10th of a series of commentaries, a senior journalist of China Daily tries to find the answers.

Since becoming China's top leader in 2012, Xi Jinping, among many other things, has been pushing forward two campaigns-eradicating corruption and eliminating poverty. The anti-corruption campaign has made impressive progress, with thousands of corrupt officials, including hundreds above the ministerial level, being punished. As for the anti-poverty campaign, Xi has ensured it goes hand-in-hand with the anti-corruption drive.

The Poverty Alleviation Office of the State Council is in charge of the anti-corruption drive related to poverty-alleviation work. Each year, it conducts routine inspections to see whether the poverty alleviation work is being scientifically done, the special funds are properly used and whether any officials have violated laws or regulations.

The National Audit Office inspects the accounts of departments related to poverty alleviation work. For instance, in 2018, it audited the accounts of 296 poverty-stricken counties and interviewed 32,400 poor farmers, which revealed hundreds of problems that were reported to the National People's Congress, following which the State Council dealt with them one by one.

Also in 2018, the Communist Party of China Central Committee organized special inspections of institutions related to poverty alleviation work and poverty-stricken counties, including the poverty alleviation office, to see if all the regulations and disciplines were strictly abided by. This revealed 45,300 dubious cases.

For example, the inspectors found some county officials had accepted bribes of up to 500,000 yuan ($72,818) for giving poverty-alleviation projects to unqualified contractors. They also found that some village leaders had embezzled about 150,000 yuan given by the government as compensation to herdsmen. Such people were punished in accordance with the law and the Party discipline.

Yet most of the problems were related to officials' dereliction of duty, exaggeration of their achievements, cheating, and improper use of funds, investments and donations. In some places, excessive inspection and "training" trips were organized. As a result, the county and village leaders spent a lot of time preparing to welcome the "distinguished guests", as they had to write and rewrite to improve their work reports, fill a lot of forms and put up well-designed display boards to show the "great job" they had done. Being busy with such work, they didn't have enough time and energy to do what they were actually supposed to do-to help alleviate poverty.

In some places, poverty alleviation officials falsely listed their relatives as poor, so they could get preferential policies and financial support from the government, leaving those who are really poor untended and without help.

The officials of a county in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region used the 200 million yuan special poverty-alleviation funds for other purposes despite the county being one of the most impoverished in the country with thousands of poor villagers in need of help.

In Anhui province, the outer walls and fences of houses in poor villages were whitewashed, which cost as much as 40 yuan per square meter, even though many of those villages still have poor residents. And in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, an extravagant water curtain movie "theater" was built for the poor villagers who were struggling to cross the country's poverty line of 4,000 yuan per person per year.

The lack of planning and coordination also causes waste of poverty-alleviation funds. Last year, when visiting a village school in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province, while impressed by the three-story school building, I noticed the school had only five students and one teacher. The school, built with a donation of more than 1 million yuan from some companies, once had a few dozen students. But with the improvement of roads, even many poor farmers had bought electric motorcycles so they could take their children to schools in a town a few miles away where they would get better education.

With the number of students dwindling, the local education authority was caught in a dilemma-running the school meant more expenses and closing it meant breaking the regulation that a school should be kept open even if there is only one student.

Many such problems have come to light and as many as 180,000 officials and village leaders have been criticized, disciplined or punished according to law.

With China getting ever closer to realizing its goal of eliminating absolute poverty by the end of this year and with the central government working out new plans to improve farmers' living conditions, the need for a smart and powerful watchdog can never be overstressed.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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