Poor Chinese county used relief fund to build temple 27 Sep 11

(Reuters) – A poor county in southern China, prone to natural disasters, forced villages to hand over their irrigation subsidies to finance a multimillion-dollar temple to attract tourists, state media reported on Monday.

Xinhua county in Hunan province hoped to raise 14 million yuan a year from the temple — projected to cost 50 million yuan ($7.8 million) — from ticket sales and other tourist activities, but the project stopped after the cash ran out, China National Radio said.

The county government demanded villages “donate” money starting in 2010, with each village forced to give between 6,000 and 10,000 yuan depending on their size, it added.

The money was deducted from irrigation subsidies which were supposed to help overcome the effects of frequent floods and droughts. Village officials were threatened with having their salaries confiscated if they did not comply, the report said.

Despite the strongarm tactics, the project is still 30 million yuan short, and building work on the temple has been suspended. The report did not say if any officials have been punished.

Chinese media often report on lavish spending schemes by governments in poor parts of the country, which go on extravagant office buildings or other vanity projects which have little hope of recouping their costs or benefiting residents.

Calls to end such wasteful spending have apparently had little effect. Such scandals have only bred more resentment in rural areas which already seethe over corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs, prompting thousands of protests annually.