The Ministry of Supervision and its land and resources counterpart are right when they require local leaders to learn the lessons from past mistakes and do a better job after they meted out administrative disciplinary penalties on 73 local government leaders for violations of land use policies or rules in 2009.
But, of the 73 prefecture level mayors or county magistrates, only one was demoted. The others received a warning or demerit. Even more worrying, several of them have reportedly been promoted to a higher-level position.
Such punishments obviously fall short of the public’s expectations and are unlikely to have much effect as a deterrent.
Statistics from the Ministry of Land and Resources show that the total number of cases involving violations in land use reached 23,000 nationwide in the first six months of this year. The cases involved an area of 9,066 hectares, 3,400 hectares of which was arable land.
The number of such cases has decreased in the east and central regions, compared with the same period last year, but it has increased by more than 50 percent in the western regions.
Clearly, the urge for GDP growth by local government leaders in the western regions is much greater than their fear of being given an administrative warning or recorded demerit.
However, it is unfair to conclude that the punishments are meaningless. At least, the two ministries have started to try and rein in the rampant violations in the illegal occupation of land, in particular the occupation of arable land. But the question is whether they will be able to go further in this direction.
Except for more investigations of land violations to see whether some government officials have committed criminal offences, such as taking bribes or embezzling public funds, a mechanism is needed to ensure the administrative or Party disciplinary penalties act as deterrents. For example, anyone who has received an administrative disciplinary punishment should not be eligible for promotion, at least for a certain period of time, and any government official who accumulates a number of such penalties should be demoted or dismissed.
In addition, government leaders should be made accountable for a dereliction of duty if the illegal occupation of arable land is extremely serious. It should not be the case that government officials never receive criminal punishment unless they are directly involved in the illegal acquisition or occupation of arable land.
The two ministries have a long way to go in bringing under control illegal actions involving the sales of land use right, the acquisition of land without central government license and the illegal occupation of arable land.
Source: China Daily