$372b river work to guard against floods
JASPER BECKER in Beijing
Plans have been unveiled for 400 billion yuan (HK$372 billion) to be spent on flood prevention along the mainland's seven main rivers.
Vice-Minister for Water Resources Zhang Jiyao said the 46 billion yuan spent on prevention following the devastating 1998 floods was not enough - and some of that had been embezzled.
Mr Zhang said: 'We have found 40 to 50 cases of funds being misappropriated and they are still under investigation. We will punish those responsible.' He did not say how the money would be raised or what the time-frame was, but listed a programme to ensure government spending would not go on shoddy construction - labelled 'tofu projects' by Premier Zhu Rongji - which was blamed for causing last year's disasters.
New regulations would assign clear responsibility for the public works and there would be a new system of tendering and quality supervision, said Mr Zhang.
The public were being encouraged to play a bigger role in monitoring the quality of the projects and reporting abuses by officials.
The Yangtze and Yellow rivers would get the biggest share of the spending package, with a total 250 billion yuan being spent on dykes along their routes.
In the last spending round, 30 billion yuan was raised by issuing treasury bonds, but Mr Zhang said this could not be sustained. 'We are considering other ways to raise funds such as higher water tariffs, increasing local and foreign investment and seeking public donations.' Under the new regulations, local government would no longer be made solely responsible for carrying out works. Instead, government agencies, such as the Yangtze Water Conservation Commission or the State Development and Planning Commission, would play a larger role.
Last year, more than 4,000 people died and tens of millions were affected in the worst floods for decades.