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Audit turns up unspent billions

Zhang Yi
Updated: Aug 29,2015 10:08 AM     China Daily

A nationwide audit of government cash and spending has found nearly 56.5 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) in funds sitting idle in the coffers of governments and other entities, despite calls by the State Council for funds to be put to productive use.

The National Audit Office, which discovered the money, also found that 36,000 hectares of land allotted to local governments remained unused because the governments changed plans or mortgaged the land to raise money.

Such problems exist in 22 provinces and autonomous regions, and in two governmental agencies, according to the top auditors’ findings, which were made public on Aug 28.

Auditors looked into the spending of government money by provinces, central government agencies and State-owned enterprises.

At a State Council meeting in July, Premier Li Keqiang upbraided government officials for not being vigorous enough in spending money that had been appropriated for various purposes. Money was taken back by governmental treasury departments for redistribution to current key programs that are short of funds.

Unused money, in some cases sitting idle for years, had amounted to as much as 250 billion yuan.

Premier Li also warned that land allocations would be cut in next year’s budget if governments were found to be sitting on idle land. At the July meeting, he urged local governments to implement “key policies, reforms and projects” well to ensure a properly running economy.

Local governments were asked to speed up the construction of railways, rural highways and major water conservation projects, and to ensure that their annual targets are met.

Officials who “apparently did not perform their duties or did not do enough in corrective and remedial measures” must be held accountable, according to a statement released after the July meeting.

The Audit Office has intensified investigations into the use of State funds as part of an effort to implement the central government’s economic policies.

Su Ming, deputy head of the Finance Ministry’s Research Institute for Fiscal Science, said the timely auditing work is commendable, given that China’s economy is facing downward pressure.

“The large amount of money left unused by governments at different levels is in sharp contrast to the present relative financial squeeze,” he said, adding that the authorities need to further investigate the management of the money and learn why it wasn’t spent.