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Harmony reigns in village that pioneered supervision

By XING YI in Wuyi, Zhejiang| China Daily| Updated: June 22, 2021 L M S



In Wuyi, Zhejiang province, a big golden sign on a village office building reads: "National democratic and law-based model village-Houchen".

Seventeen years ago, the people of the village established China's first village-level supervisory committee, something later written into law and rolled out across the country.

With its director elected by the villagers, the committee for supervision of village affairs functions as a check on abuse of authority or embezzlement by village officials.

The current director of the committee, Chen Yuefu, was elected in October and works with three committee members. On the 15th day of every month, Chen reports his work to representatives of villagers.

"One of our jobs is to listen to the villagers' complaints about the management and development of the village, no matter how big or small," Chen said. "We hold three meetings a month to discuss what we learn from the people-their biggest concerns and hopes."

The committee also has the power to audit official meetings, inspect village expenses and propose suggestions to curb corruption, and can demand a meeting of villagers' representatives to deliberate on infractions by any village officials.

The mechanism stemmed from a village financial transparency program. In the early 2000s, the village received 19 million yuan in compensation for the acquisition of land for an industrial park, and disputes arose over what do with the money. The villagers wanted to split it among themselves because they didn't trust the village officials.

The then Party chief of Houchen, Hu Wenfa, proposed the formation of a supervisory team to oversee the spending of the money and disclose village management's financial records to the public.

Chen Zhongwu, the then village chief, said, "At first, I felt uncomfortable and troubled by such measures, but soon I saw the good side.

"There had always been people talking behind my back as if village officials were all corrupt and they didn't want us to do any projects in case we stole money. When we posted financial records on the bulletin board, villagers started to trust us to do things for the good of the village."

The disclosure of financial records, which has slashed unnecessary spending, has since become normal practice in the village. People can now find the information on the bulletin board and also on a village television channel and a mobile app.

In the office of the supervisory committee, eight ledgers covering the village's income and expense in past years are kept in a safe.

"Every receipt, even as little as 2 yuan ($0.31) for several bolts, is kept here," said Chen Yuefu, adding that there had been no compliance problems and not a single petition against village officials in the past 17 years thanks to the mechanism.

Villager Chen Zhong'an said: "The supervisory committee has helped resolve conflicts and identify problems at the very beginning. It's really a good thing for the village."

The Houchen model was extended to all villages in Wuyi county in 2005, and adopted by the Jinhua city government in 2009.

A year later, the country's revised Organic Law of the Villagers' Committees added a new chapter on democratic management and democratic supervision, stating that each village should establish a supervisory committee or similar institution to oversee the handling of village affairs.

Chang Jian, director of Nankai University's Center for Human Rights Studies, said, "That means the measures for a village's management have become a policy for the country's governance at the grassroots, which ensures people's political rights to know, to supervise and to participate."