[FOUNTAIN]A taxing burdenFour years ago, Yongnian County in Hebei Province in China formed a special investigation committee to check whether the government’s payroll was properly managed. The investigation revealed that 429 persons were unlawfully paid salaries. By cracking down on the phantom civil servants, Yongnian County prevented 2.6 million yuan, about $325,000, of taxpayers’ money from being wasted.
In March, 2005, Ren Yuling, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultancy Committee, brought up the problem of the ratio of civil servants to civilians, which displays the correlation between the number of government officials and the tax burden on the citizens.
According to Mr. Ren, the ratio in the Han Dynasty was 1:8,000. The tax collected from 8,000 people paid for the living of one official. Then the burden on the people increased as the ratio became 1:3,000 in the Tang Dynasty, 1:2,500 in the Sung Dynasty, 1:1,500 in the Ming Dynasty and 1:900 in the Qing Dynasty. In the early days of the reform in 1978, the ratio between government officials and civilians was 1:67. It has now jumped to 1:26, seriously burdening taxpayers.
The Chinese government claimed Mr. Ren’s calculation was faulty since he included teachers as civil servants, insisting the actual ratio was 1:198. However, the need to alleviate the taxpayers’ burden was desperate. As a part of that effort, Beijing announced the 2,500-year-old agricultural tax would be abolished starting Jan. 1. The agricultural tax started being collected in the State of Lu during the spring and autumn period about 2,000 years ago. This tax exemption benefits 800 million Chinese farmers.
South Korea’s Ministry of Planning and Budget recently announced that personnel expenses for civil servants totaled 20.4 trillion won, about $21.5 billion. The sum almost doubled in seven years, from 10.9 trillion won in 1999.
The administration’s pursuit of “big government” has expanded the number of civil servants. In the last three and half years, the number of civil servants paid salaries by the state has increased by 26,000. While the government argues the expansion reflects reinforcement in the public service, it also adds a burden to the taxpayers.
The real estate tax, for example, is especially harsh. The tax on gasoline per liter is 385 won, about 40 cents higher in Seoul than Tokyo. Maybe Koreans are calm even at the news of Pyongyang’s missile launch because they have been already too panicked by those tax bombs.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the life and style news director of JoongAng Daily.