HONG KONG�A group of farmers in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu has written to the United Nations slamming the conduct of local officials who levy exorbitant taxes and siphon off schools' funding for their own purposes, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

In a letter addressed to the International Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, the farmers provided a detailed breakdown of taxes, fees, and levies on a typical three-person household in Lizhuang Township, Gangyu County, since 1998.

The farmers said such a household had paid 1,191.17 yuan (U.S. $144) in taxation for the whole of 1998, while the figure had risen to 1,537.25 yuan (U.S.$185), an increase of 29 percent over two years.

"It is absolutely forbidden in our county to bypass our superiors and report to higher-ups," the letter said. "Even the media are afraid to speak out for us. With nobody come to our rescue, all we can do is to call on the international community."

"Through our friends overseas, hopefully you will send someone over to investigate and tell the Chinese government the truth so they can adopt some measures," it added.

Local residents said each farmer had less than an acre of land for subsistence farming, while the rest was sold off by the village committee with no compensation to the individual farmers. As the annual income from an acre of land was less than 1,000 yuan , most of the local community were forced to find other sources of income.

"They go out to work and have to think of a way to live," former resident of Tanghu village in the county, now resident in Canada, told RFA. "As a result, they eat very poorly or they raise some pigs or something like that. If they don�t, it is impossible for them to survive."

A Lizhuang Township official denied the allegations when contacted by RFA. "The rural areas have to ensure major policies from higher-up are carried out. We can�t violate them," the official said in a recent interview. "The farmers� burden has been reduced by more than 40 yuan after we implemented the policy."

Schools in the area were unable to pay their teachers' salaries in full because local officials had diverted their funding for other purposes, the letter said, in spite of a hefty 2,000 yuan tuition fee per pupil at the local high school. This was confirmed by the local high-school principal, identified by his surname Gu.

"All our funding is handed over to the county financial bureau," Gu told RFA. "If our school wants to spend 20 cents, we have to apply and get approval from them."

Meanwhile, a teacher at a secondary school in the county confirmed the non-payment of teachers' salaries, saying the problem was common at many schools in the area. "This is the general situation. We are owed part of our salaries," said the teacher, who declined to be named.

The county government official also denied these charges. "Here, if you Don�t report the situation higher-up, then they will then find someone to report it to them. People�s wages are all being paid. There isn�t any problem at all," the official said.

China's new generation of leaders led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have announced what they call a people-centered social policy, and attempting to distance themselves from economic growth regardless of social cost.

But a recently published in-depth study of farming communities in China's poorest areas showed local officials routinely succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of visiting leaders and even provincial officials. #####


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