Public to help watch over funds in anti-poverty sector

China’s top poverty relief authority will use the sunlight of public scrutiny to tackle embezzlement and misconduct in the sector, a senior official said on Wednesday.

In addition to strengthening supervision, Liu Yongfu, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said the office will institutionalize publicity about anti-poverty projects and their funding as a way to curb misconduct.

“Public scrutiny will intimidate embezzlers, and those who persist in wrongdoing will pay a heavy price,” Liu said.

Liu made the remark in response to cases of misuse and embezzlement of poverty relief funds over the past few years.

In a 2017 inspection targeting poverty relief funds, the Ministry of Finance retrieved 730 million yuan ($115 million) that had been falsely claimed or embezzled, and 450 officials were held accountable.

According to the office, China’s poor population-which stood at more than 98 million at the end of 2012-was cut by two-thirds in the most recent five-year period, the best performance in the country’s history of poverty reduction.

The central government has set a goal to complete the building of a “moderately prosperous society” in all respects by 2020, which requires the eradication of extreme poverty.

Liu said funding for poverty relief efforts has dramatically increased-from 50 billion yuan in 2012 to more than 200 billion in 2017-but the hikes have posed a challenge in supervision.

“The funds go to tens of thousands of impoverished counties and villages, which gives rise to some oversight difficulties,” he said.

To improve transparency and efficiency in the use of funds, the office will also set up a database of poverty relief projects so that local authorities can consult sample projects and allocate money accordingly, he said.

More than 80,000 people have received punishment for misconduct that includes embezzling poverty relief funds and manipulating numbers and results since 2015, Liu said.

He added that while misconduct does exist in the sector, the vast majority and core of the anti-poverty force is free from any corrupt influence, contributing a great deal to pulling 68 million rural poor out of dire poverty in the past five years.

“More than 400 grassroots officials fell ill on the front line of the battle against poverty; some even gave their lives,” he said.

“Their sacrifice should be recognized.”

The poverty line in China is a net annual income of 2,300 yuan as measured in 2010.