Money for fighting pollution 'wasted'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

Nearly half of the funds set aside for environmental protection on the mainland are wasted by officials, often on vanity projects that end up causing more harm than good, a senior government expert says.

Wang Jinnan, deputy director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection's Academy For Environmental Planning, told People's Daily that officials often complained that a shortage of funds was the biggest obstacle to environmental protection.

But since 2006 there had been a surge of funding and this would probably double in the next five-year plan, Wang told the newspaper at the 13th World Lake Conference in Wuhan last week. 'But how much of the money is used to clean up the pollution and improve the environment? If we squeeze it, more than 40 per cent will be lost,' he said.

In June, Wu Xiaoqing, deputy minister of environmental protection, said the mainland's total investment in environmental protection next year would reach 1.4 trillion yuan (HK$1.59 trillion). According to Wang's calculations, this would mean more than 500 billion yuan could be wasted each year.

Wang said government officials piled funds into unnecessary and extravagant 'face projects'. These included enormous recreational squares, lawns and even golf courses alongside polluted rivers that were supposed to be cleaned up. The projects not only failed to tackle the pollution, but could lead to further environmental damage, he said.

Tsinghua University researcher Chang Miao told the forum that 'face projects' were a waste of taxpayers' money.

'In some areas, waste-water treatment plants look huge and grandiose. With the money that was wasted [on unnecessary buildings and decoration], we could build another waste treatment plant,' she told People's Daily.

Wang Hao, a director of the Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, said China had elbowed its way into the leading group of nations in terms of environmental protection technology, but the government's poor management was letting the country down.

The government 'stressed the importance of engineering and technology when dealing with pollution but turned a blind eye to management', Wang said.

'They build water treatment plants, but few of them are operating. They shut down factories around the lakes, but more are pumping pollutants from inland. If management style and engineering guidelines remain the same, an additional 90 billion yuan investment would make no difference.'

The criticism was prompted by a National Audit Office report last week, which revealed that despite 91 billion yuan being spent to clean up six of the most polluted rivers and lakes between 2001 to 2007, they remained heavily polluted.

Auditors found that 11 of the 13 provinces involved in the programme either misused funds or faked spending to a total of 515 million yuan.

They also found that many environmental protection policies for rivers and lakes had never been seriously executed, and regional governments had failed to stop illegal operations by industrial polluters such as chemical and paper plants.