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China to Scrutinize Rural Fees in Move to Cut Farmers' Costs

Central government officials have ordered an inspection of a wide range of fees charged in rural areas in a bid to reduce the financial burdens of China's 900 million rural population.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said on Friday in a web circular that local price and financial agencies should conduct a comprehensive inspection of prices and fees charged by local governments for water, electricity, education, homebuilding, cable TV and livestock epidemic prevention services.

"Exorbitant charges must be waived and higher-than-normal fees must be lowered nationwide," said the circular.

In 2006, China scrapped the 2,000-year-old agricultural tax and other farming-related taxes, in a move to lower the tax burden on farmers by 50 billion yuan (US$7.29 billion) annually. But local governments have been hit financially, because those revenues constituted the bulk of their fiscal income.

The NDRC, the top economic planning agency, said all administrative charges to farmers should comply with laws and regulations. It said local governments may not collect fees without providing services to farmers.

The commission said it would jointly track the inspection work with the Ministry of Finance and identify and punish offenders.

(Xinhua News Agency June 28, 2008)

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