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Taxpayers Get More Say on Spending

A number of local governments across the country are giving taxpayers a greater say in how their money is spent.

"After three decades of reform, it's high time for us to monitor in detail how the governments at various levels decide budgets and how they spend them," China Development Research Foundation's Secretary-General Lu Mai told a seminar on Sunday.

Among the pilot cities, residents in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, and Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, voted in 2007 on 63 projects, such as libraries and parks, involving an investment of around US$11 million.

Jiaozuo circulated a 300-page budget report at the seminar, which many participants and experts called "the most detailed fiscal spending report" made public by a Chinese local government so far. The public can even find how much money officials will spend on "business travel overseas".

"We have made the report easily accessible to the public online and sending out hard copies," said Shen Xiangchen, head of Jiaozuo's bureau of finance. "And we also have set up special teams to answer their complaints."

Shen said his city would take legislative measures to make the public decide how to spend "their money", which has amounted to US$1.2 billion this year.

Lu said the pilots can allow the public to participate in the decision-making on projects in which they have stakes. "It has great implication in terms of enhancing grassroots democracy."

These bottom-up experiments can improve leaderships' performance and prevent corruption, he added.

Nationwide, Chinese taxpayers' money has already amounted to 30 percent of China's total economic output and in 2007, China's fiscal revenue surged 32.4 percent year-on-year to 5.13 trillion yuan, thanks to brisk economic growth.

More than 40 percent of the fiscal revenue now goes to government-funded projects and the government has made more efforts to improve the livelihood of ordinary citizens.

And in governmental procurement, China purchased at least 400 billion yuan of goods and services in 2007, a new high compared to the 368.1 billion yuan recorded a year earlier.

Participants at the forum called for more transparency in government procurement and public spending. And all the related parties involving the public spending should be subject to real-time supervision and regular auditing scrutiny to avoid bribery and kickbacks.

"All the experiments we shared at the grassroots are expected to become future nationwide policies in spending big sums of taxpayers' money," Lu said. "All in all, taxpayers should be encouraged to participate in the process."

(China Daily October 16, 2008)

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