o truly constrain power, a Lifelong Accountability System for government decisions must be implemented in earnest, said commentator Hu Yinbing in China Youth Daily
, critiquing the push by the central province of Henan to build residential quarters for farmers. The poorly-thought out push resulted in a loss of over 60 billion yuan (US$8.7 billion), while no official has been held accountable.
China introduced the “New Countryside Construction” plan in 2005, aimed at comprehensively improving rural areas. An important approach is building concentrations of residential quarters, or “New Countryside Communities,” for farmers. Henan had been a keen proponent of the policy up to 2013. Official data showed that as of the end of 2012, some 3,250 such communities had either had been built or were under construction.
“If Henan’s project succeeds (that is, over 30 million people choose to move into such communities, constructed or planned), not only will a considerable amount of rural homesteads be turned into land available for construction, but also the province’s urbanization rate will be sharply increased,” said Hu. That, however, does not mean the policy itself suits the reality on the ground, he added.
In Henan, a major grain producing province, the majority of farmers rely on farmwork as their primary source of income; thus, “without the support of developed industries, de-agriculturization (or urbanization) is difficult to realize,” Hu said. “Using administrative orders to drive farmers into such communities and force high home-buying costs on them is impractical.”
And the project has always confronted the challenge of a shortage of capital. Local governments even broke rules by "integrating" agriculture-related funds, including allotting funds earmarked for other purposes to the project; using public credit as endorsement to draw private funds; and selling homes in such communities to non-villagers.
The project soon backfired. As of the end of 2016, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, construction on 1,366 such communities in Henan was suspended, resulting in total losses of more than 60 billion yuan. “In this case, the statutory procedures - like public participation and risk assessment - that are required in making major government decisions, are clearly absent,” he noted.
To constrain power and warn others against similar decision-making processes, it is highly necessary, in this case, to start the Lifelong Accountability System for major decisions and responsibility tracking mechanism - two systems that are stipulated by the Party but rarely implemented in practice, Hu said.