Premier focuses on people´s well-being in policy briefing to parliament 03-05-2004 16:51

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in his government work report on Mar.5 pledged higher rural incomes, more urban jobs and enhanced public safety to the people, a goal that is lauded by many as "pragmatic and human-centered".

"The premier's report, the first in his five-year-term, was permeated by a humanistic care for the people," said Xu Geliang, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, from the east China province of Anhui.

Along with 2,900-plus fellow deputies, Xu heard the nearly two-hour report in the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing as the NPC began its 10-day annual full session Friday morning.

"The power of the government is bestowed by the people and the government must, therefore, be accountable to them, act in their interests and accept their oversight," said the premier, who gave three ceremonial bows to the lawmakers before starting his address.

In his report, Wen announced a landmark decision of his administration to scrap agricultural taxes on farmers within five years, with the current tax rate to be reduced by more than 1 percentage point each year.

The legislators, many from the countryside where 900 million people reside, welcomed this announcement with a storm of applause. In 2003, the annual per capita income of China's rural residents was only 2,622 yuan (316 dollars), less than one third that of the urban dwellers.

"I also clapped hands for this great news," Zhao Desheng, a farmer from Zhenping County, central China's Henan Province who heard the report live on TV, told Xinhua over the phone. "This policy will spare me at least 100 yuan (12 dollars) this year and that will make us live better."

The premier went on to promise to "basically solve the problem of wage arrears for migrant rural workers on construction sites in cities within three years".

The wages owed to some 85 million peasant-workers in cities were estimated to run up to at least 100 billion yuan (12 billion dollars) by the end of 2003.

"Really? The premier mentioned us and promised to help us get paid?" Wang Xiangfu, a 40-year-old rural laborer from Anhui Province, asked surprisingly. A welder on a Beijing construction site, Wang told Xinhua that his previous employer owed him more than 6,600 yuan (800 dollars) last year.

"Now I see hope again. Now I simply wish the local officials would follow the premier's instructions and render us true help," said Wang, who sued his former boss in January and is still awaiting the court ruling.

Stating that his administration will "do everything possible to create more jobs", Wen targeted the creation of 14 million jobs in cities and towns in 2004, 7 percent more than the actual number of jobs created in 2003.

"It's a very good sign," said Professor Wang Tongsan, director of the Quantitative and Technical Economics Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "For the ordinary people, especially the needy and disadvantaged groups, employment is always a top concern."

"The report by the premier shows that the government clearly understands that the ultimate goal of development is to bring more substantial benefits to the people," he added.

In his usual factual style, Wen also acknowledged the people's rising concerns about public safety and proposed measures to drastically improve the existing public health system and effectively bring in check major accidents that lead to heavy losses and casualties.

As last year's SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, described as "disastrous" in Wen's report, sounded alarm on the flaws of the country's public health system, Wen pledged that the government would "try to establish within three years a fully functioning system for disease prevention and control and for emergency medical aid that covers both urban and rural areas".

His prescription for the soaring industrial and other major accidents across the country, which have claimed several hundred lives since January, is to "speed up the establishment of emergency response mechanisms" and "tenaciously investigate all kinds of accidents and prosecute those responsible".

Wen devoted much of his 31-page report to such issues as a better social security network that covers every citizen, more government spending on education, and "prompt and reasonable" compensation for people affected by the demolition of old urban residential buildings and requisition of farmland.

"It's very important for a government to know where the problems lie and then seek solutions, so I think China's new government has done quite a good job over the past year," said Hassan Tavana, chief correspondent of the Beijing bureau of Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency.

"However, some problems have long existed in China and it will take a very long time to overcome them," he added.

As China's top state organ of power, the NPC will deliberate the premier's report and evaluate the government's performance in the coming few days.

Editor:Wang  Source:Xinhua News Agency

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