In January, superstar Chinese film director Zhang Yimou was fined the equivalent of $US1.24 million ($1.34 million) for having three children in excess of the country’s strict, so-called “one-child” family planning standards. It was a significant, possibly record fine, meant in theory to compensate the state for the social and material costs associated with those pesky, extra three lives.
This raises an interesting question: What happens to Yimou’s $US1.24 million? Or more importantly, what’s happened to the estimated 2 trillion yuan ($346 billion) in social maintenance fees that millions of other Chinese parents have paid since 1980, according to one study? On Thursday, a court in Guangzhou ruled that the Family Planning Commission of Guangdong Province – China’s most populous – must disclose the specifics of its own data within 15 days.
This isn’t the kind of information such bodies are eager to reveal, and Guangdong’s commission strongly fought the lawsuit demanding that they come clean. They have good reason to resist greater transparency. Last year, for example, the commission claimed to have collected 1.456 billion yuan in “social compensation fees”. The province’s Department of Finance, on the other hand, reported that collections amounted to 2.613 billion yuan.
What accounts for the difference? Specifics will have to wait until the Family Planning Commission gets around to disclosing details. But the issues are already well-known in China, where such bodies employ more than 500,000 people, and often serve as critical revenue generators for cash-strapped poorer provinces. (Local governments enjoy wide latitude in assessing fines, and generally do so on the basis of income.)
The problem, according to Chinese media reports, is that quite a bit of that revenue doesn’t seem to land in government treasuries. In rural Yunnan Province, for example, audits suggest that in one county as little as 10.18 per cent of social compensation fees flowed into government coffers. In Chongqing, 68 million yuan worth of social planning fees failed to find their way to the Treasury.
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