Monday, October 20, 2008

Corruption in China Countryside

There was a landmark decision made at the plenary session of the Party Congress this week: The Chinese government decided to give lease rights on the land to the peasants. No one knows how exactly this act will work; apparently it aims to narrow the income gap between the rich in the cities and the poor in the rural areas. For those of us who have had a little experience with rural land issues, we are a bit skeptical.

Here is my story.

About 10 years ago, we visited a painter friend who moved to the countryside and leased an abandoned schoolyard for 50 years to be his studio and home.

It was a charming residence. He had a vegetable garden and even tried to raise pigs. Compared with the compact living in 100 square meters in the city, his life seemed so much more spacious and connected with nature. My husband and I were immediately attracted to the idea and inquired about whether other lots were available in the village.

A rough and drunk party secretary for the village called us soon and said there is a persimmon orchard that has been retired, and that if we wanted to, we can lease some land there. It all sounded charming and rather inexpensive. We paid the money, got a piece of paper which said that the land was leased to us for 50 years — what is known as “Zhai Ji Di” in China. The party secretary said that we could build a house on the land, but we could not conduct any commercial activity. And, if during the 50 years, the government wanted to appropriate the land, we would be reimbursed for only the lease fee, not what we have built.

This was fine. We built the house and started to use it as a weekend place. Then the first scare came. The party secretary came at dinnertime one evening and announced that we have to demolish our house because it was in the middle of a road that would be built for the Beijing Olympics. We got a little panicky, fed him some more wine, and tried to get him to help us to keep the house. He said he could probably help us. After all, there are three families whose houses sit in the middle of the road. Maybe the road should take a detour.

We heartily agreed, and told him that he was the best party secretary. He drank some more wine, commented about how he likes this foreign liquor called X.O., and told us that a getting a detour would cost us. We stuffed two bottles of X.O. (cognac) in his bag and paid him $10,000 and sent him on his way to make the road bend.

About four months later, the party secretary came again at dinner, and announced triumphantly that the road would be detoured and that we would get to keep our house. We were happy, so we gave him some wine and food, and as he was wiping his mouth with his shirt sleeves, he said, “But there is another problem.”

“What?” we asked, mouths gaping.

“The county decided to re-issue all the land lease papers. The chop [license] used on the last one was not properly fixed.”

“Oh, what does that mean?” we asked. “Well, it should be chopped by the land appropriation bureau, not the agricultural bureau,” he said, waving his glass for more wine. I poured dutifully. “You see, the government got confused. This was an orchard, so they thought, agricultural land. But then the land bureau said since it is no longer used as a working orchard, they need to get their chop on it as well.”

“OK,” we said, “so how much?” “Oh, maybe just 30,000 renminbi,” he said, referring to about $3,500. “Cash?” my husband asked.

“Hey,” he said with a bit annoyance in his voice, “I don’t want your money. We are friends now, but it’s for ‘them.’ ”

This was eight and half years ago. We have stopped using the house as a weekend place and only went back to the village once or twice a year. This year we decided to start using the house again for our 3-year-old daughter. When we asked to see the party secretary, we were told he was in jail. Apparently, he took all the cash that we paid for the land and the road and the chop and deposited it into his own bank account. During a village election, his actions were exposed by his nephew, who stole his bank statement.

Right now, his nephew is the new party secretary. We saw him and explained that we still don’t have our lease paper back. He said he will see what he can do. Then his driver (who drives a BMW) showed up and said to get our paper all sorted out would cost 50,000 renminbi (about $5,833). We got a bit smarter and said we would pay 20 percent now, and the rest upon getting the papers.

We have not gotten our papers, and we are not the only ones. For those of us who participated in the “gentrification” of the rural areas, the rampant corruption is the real problem plaguing the countryside. When we first paid the fee for the land, we were told it would go to finance a school for children in the village. Obviously, it never happened. The new legislation was intended to give the land to individual peasants, but given the workings of the Chinese government, it will most likely take many “chops” and red tape before a peasant is allowed to do what he wants on the land. Each chop will have a price on it. The law might have just given corrupt officials a series of good excuses to take bribes.

It is good that the legislation is moving toward privatizing land-use rights, but I am rather doubtful whether it will work out as the government had envisioned. Most Chinese regulations get terribly distorted in the process of execution.

As for that Olympic Road, it was actually an imaginary road on the part of our old party secretary.

(Extracted from New York Times)


These things happen in Malaysia too? I found similar things in Malaysia as in when the government announces certain rulings which were opened to corruptions. For example, catching cars that are heavily tinted and at the same time, the measuring devices are not up to date. Who will have the final say in determining who's right or wrong ....... the final deal - money it is!

Tags: China, Corruption In China, China Countryside, Party Congress, Peasant



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about melamine tainted products ? freddy Toh ,shadowfow and Mah Ngah Tong agree with you to parallel simiraities bewten PRC and Msia .Rhe common thread is quanxi lor.
Mah Ngah Tong

20 October, 2008 16:02  
Blogger Johnny Ong said...

anonymous - the application of the word 'quanxi' need to be studied further ..... hehe

20 October, 2008 16:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quanxi in this case according to mahkopaedia,is good connections and dont disturb status quo,if pple dun complain,keep qeuit lor.If ppl found out,say not our fort meh,summore nothing wrong mah.Study lor,which lor ? So far nobaby dieded in KL,tks lucki stars,so far no stones detected,tky wan more time.
Mah Ngah Tong.

23 October, 2008 18:33  
Blogger Ai-Ling said...

pathetic indeed, huh...

by the way, i saw your whole blog and noticed the problem that you mentioned to me. hope you'll be able to find someone to help you rectify it :)

31 October, 2008 22:17  

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