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Quote of the Day: “Sixty-six Counties Misused 1.951 Billion Yuan of School Meal Subsidies to Repay Local Government Debt”
Quote of the Day: “Sixty-six Counties Misused 1.951 Billion Yuan of School Meal Subsidies to Repay Local Government Debt”

Quote of the Day: “Sixty-six Counties Misused 1.951 Billion Yuan of School Meal Subsidies to Repay Local Government Debt”

It is well known that many Chinese local governments are cash-strapped, burdened by excessive debt, and searching for ways to replenish their depleted coffers. Reports abound of local governments, utilities, and even police attempting to drum up more cash by imposing various illegal fees and surcharges, overcharging for natural gas, and sometimes doing a bit of “fishing the high seas”—that is, engaging in cross-provincial “policing for profit.” But according to a State Council 2023 budgetary report made public on June 26 of this year, some counties, education departments, and schools have been topping up their budgets by misusing funds intended to provide nutritious meals to impoverished rural schoolchildren. The report, published by the National Audit Office, clarifies the scope of the problem:

A total of 23.1 billion yuan was disbursed from a special fund to subsidize nutritious school meals for rural students. Sixty-six counties misused 1.951 billion yuan of these school meal subsidies to repay local government debt, and 1,533 schools [in 41 counties] covertly appropriated 270 million yuan in subsidies by lowering the quality of the school meals they provided. Five local education departments went so far as to embezzle 42.1602 million yuan in meal subsidies and use them instead to cover benefits for local civil servants. [Chinese]

As an article from WeChat account 常识流通处 (Chángshí liútōngchù, “General Knowledge Distribution Center”) notes, had those figures not come directly from the National Audit Office, they would beggar belief. The audit report also discussed the waste or misuse of government funds earmarked for poverty alleviation, the embezzlement of land-use fees, the misappropriation of county and village assets, and the illegal repurposing of financial subsidies to pay off local government debt. In addition to the damning figures about misuse of funds, the full audit report contains other concerning details about the quality of meals being provided to China’s rural schoolchildren:

One hundred and forty seven suppliers, some school canteens, and other catering units were found to be operating in violation of regulations, cutting corners and providing inferior food.

[…] Twenty-five counties were found to have violated regulations, set unreasonable contract terms, or engaged in other irregular dealings with 52 suppliers that provided meals to 2,605 schools.

Seventy-eight companies or individuals were found to have provided false qualifications, forged documents, or engaged in collusion in order to win bids to provide 101 nutritious meal projects in 35 counties. Numerous regulatory departments in charge of overseeing school meal programs and 77 school employees are suspected of perverting the law for profit-seeking and personal gain. [Chinese]

In recent years, a number of food-quality scandals have reminded students, parents, and the general public of the often shoddy quality of meals being provided at school and university cafeterias. At one university in Jiangxi province, public outcry after student complaints about cafeteria meals containing rats’ heads led to an investigation by four provincial-level agencies that concluded the students had, indeed, been served rodents—despite school administrators’ original, spurious claim that the mystery meat was “duck neck.” The scandal birthed the now infamous phrase “point at a rat and call it a duck,” used to describe government gaslighting in response to citizens’ legitimate concerns, and various cartoons, videos, and products showing rat-duck hybrids. The phrase, as well as the products, were eventually censored and removed from Taobao, the Alibaba-owned Chinese e-commerce site.