More than 39,000 of China's district and township governments owe unpaid wages and other debts totaling 300 billion yuan (U.S.$36 billion), RFA's Mandarin service reports.

"They are spending next year's money this year," a resident of a village in the district of Zhengzhou, Henan province told RFA in an interview Wednesday. "There are government employees who haven't been paid their wages in six months. A lot of them are teachers," said the man, identified only by his surname, Luo.

He said part of the problem stemmed from official over-expenditure on frivolities like smart cars, or from downright corruption. But inefficiency was also a major factor.

"There are 80,000 people in our district," he said. "There are 40-odd people in the district government, and together with agencies like the police and law courts that makes just under 200 government employees."

Economics professor James Wen, of Trinity College in the United States, said Luo's assessment was true for local governments across China. "They could trim back on the district and township governments. A handful of people would suffice, " Wen told RFA.

China's peasants are increasingly subject to wide-ranging abuses of official power, including illegal levying of fees and taxes, beatings to death, as well as grinding poverty and diminished access to healthcare and education.

In response to what it sees as the most pressing issue for the new generation of leaders, the Communist Party has begun once more to issue a rural policy paper, a tradition which lapsed during the past 12 years of focusing on economic growth at all costs.

The growing threat to social and economic stability posed by the situation in the countryside featured heavily at the annual parliamentary meetings last week. "As at the end of last year, the total unpaid wages owed to approximately 85 million peasant workers amounted to 100 billion yuan," Anhui representative Yu Dina told delegates of the National People's Congress (NPC).

Yu said local governments were notorious for collecting illegal taxes and fees, or withholding income on unjustifiable grounds. "Some of them even break into peasant households and take away their contents. This makes the local peasants feel heavily burdened without an essential sense of security," Yu added.

Delegates were also concerned that policy changes in Beijing, such as a new emphasis on "human-centered" development rather than economic growth rates, and the enshrinement of respect for private property into the constitution, might never be implemented at grassroots level.

"This is the real challenge. A series of related policies and measures need to be introduced and perfected as a matter of urgency," Yu Dina said.#####


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