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'Monopoly departments should accelerate reforms'
Updated: 2006-03-04 10:49

Chinese lawmakers and political advisors have strongly questioned the arbitrary charges imposed by the monopoly sectors, such as civil aviation and railways, and have called for early legislation against monopoly activities.

Two of the mostly questioned charges are the "airport construction fee" claimed by civil aviation operators on every air passenger aged above 12 for each flight they take, and the " floating train ticket price" introduced by the Chinese railways during each year's peak passenger flow period, the "Spring Transportation" period.

"Many people have asked me what kind of charge the 'airport construction fee' is. It is not a tax, since the 'taxpayers' never get to know what the money is collected for, neither a donation, which should occur on a voluntary basis, nor an investment, which should generate economic returns," said Zhao Zhiquan, a deputy to the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature which will convene its annual full session from Sunday.

China's civil aviation administration and operators started to charge a 50-yuan (6 U.S. dollars) per person "airport construction fee" on the air passengers in 1992, when the country's civil aviation sector entered a booming period.

"These charges were not examined or approved by the NPC Standing Committee, neither had they undergone any public hearings. They might be reasonable under a planned economy, but definitely no longer fits in China today," said Zhao.

"I wonder what kind of airport needs to charge the passengers for more than a decade yet its construction remains 'uncompleted,' and why teenage passengers aged between 12 and 18 should also take the obligation for 'airport construction,'" asked the lawmaker, who pointed to the fact that in 2005 alone the Chinese civil aviation sector transported 138 million passengers, more than double the figure in 2000.

Ji Jinshan, another NPC deputy coming to Beijing for the impending session, said he had received letters of complaints from poor rural migrant workers about the Chinese railways' charging of extra ticket fees during the Spring Festival holidays, or the Chinese Lunar New Year.

The Spring Festival, which usually falls in January or February each year, is a traditional occasion for the Chinese people to have family reunions. In about 40 days before and after the festival, tens of millions of people, mostly rural migrant workers and college students, travel by train between their hometowns and the places where they work and study.

Since the 2001 Spring Festival, the Chinese railways have been applying a "floating ticket price" system during the festival period, dubbed "Chun Yun" in Chinese or literally the "Spring Transportation," raising the ticket charges by 15 percent to 20 percent.

"The railways claimed that it raised ticket prices in order to 'limit the passenger flow' and 'divert peak period passenger flows ', but in fact it never worked in the past six years," said Ji.

Statistics showed that during the 40-day "Spring Transportation " period this year, the railways transported a record 149 million passengers, 9.5 million more than in the previous year.

"Despite the price hike, it had become even harder to get a train ticket for 'Chun Yun' this year. Facts have proved that the railway sector is just using 'limiting and diverting passenger flows' as a pretext for its brazen exercise of monopoly," said the legislator.

Ji also questioned the term of "floating price." "If they are really 'floating' ones, how come that we always saw them climb up during peak periods, but never go down in low seasons?" he asked.

According to Ren Yuling, a member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body which is convening its annual full session in Beijing, civil aviation and railways are not the only sectors in which monopoly has led to arbitrary and excessive charges.

"It is high time for us to retrospect and take immediate and effective measures to break such monopolies," said Ren.

He suggested that the state open more monopoly sectors to private capital and provide a level playing ground for market competition. "Monopoly departments should also accelerate their market-oriented reforms, and take public interest into account while pursuing profits," he added.

"I suggest the anti-monopoly law be enacted as soon as possible, to fully guarantee fair market competitions by legal means," Ren said.

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