Chinese City Starts Tracking Underperforming Officials With GPS
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2017-06-29 15:50:50

Dissatisfied with the slow progress of poverty relief work, a local government in northwestern China hit upon a novel solution: tracking its officials’ every move.

All village officials employed in Yulin, a city of more than 3 million people in Shaanxi province, will be required to carry GPS trackers while in their assigned villages beginning June 30, according to online news outlet Jiemian.com. The move comes less than two weeks after government inspectors issued a damning report on the state of ongoing poverty relief projects in Mizhi County — which falls under Yulin’s jurisdiction — that led to four local officials being removed from their positions.

The Chinese government has made poverty reduction one of its main policy goals, and its current Five-Year Plan includes a commitment to eradicating absolute poverty by 2020. Local governments have rolled out extensive measures to this end, providing families with financial subsidies, work incentives, and education. In some areas, village officials have been ordered to provide tailored relief plans to individual families or told that future promotions depend on meeting local poverty relief targets.

In parts of China, however, these efforts been hampered by official corruption and abuses of power. In October, officials in southwestern China’s Sichuan province were found to have registered their own relatives as government welfare recipients even though they did not qualify for assistance. And last June, Yu Wanhai — an official tasked with carrying out poverty relief initiatives in Dandong, a city in northeastern China’s Liaoning province — was given a prison sentence for encouraging locals to forge applications claiming state welfare subsidies on medical grounds. Yu had amassed a fortune of nearly 1.5 million yuan (around $221,000) by the time he was caught.

Poverty relief projects in Mizhi County have been impeded by unsafe drinking water and poor record-keeping, according to a report from state broadcaster CCTV. One village declared itself free of poverty without having achieved the required minimum local income.

According to a government report, 63 villages across Mizhi County fell beneath the local poverty line in 2016. County officials have aimed to ensure that the nearly 29,000 people living in poverty increase their annual incomes to over 6,000 yuan this year, a figure significantly higher than the nationally defined line of 2,300 yuan.

As the 2020 deadline looms, local governments have occasionally turned to more creative ways of tackling poverty. In April, a county in central China’s Henan province announced plans to recruit 148 “honorary” leaders from successful business backgrounds. Officials said they intended to sweeten the deal further by providing favorable conditions for entrepreneurs willing to invest in the local economy and help villages prosper.

GPS surveillance, however, has been attempted by authorities before. In 2011, a county government in the southwestern city of Chongqing required officials to carry GPS-outfitted cellphones with them at all times in an attempt to crack down on suspected illicit activity.

Contributions: Liang Chenyu; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A view of cave dwellings in Yulin, Shaanxi province, March 17, 2015. VCG)