Shoddy schools, grand offices

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


Widespread government overspending on vanity-driven construction projects in regions hit by the massive Sichuan earthquake in 2008 has been found by state auditors, who also exposed new quality problems at rebuilt schools.

But unlike previously, the National Audit Office did not give details in this year's annual report on quake reconstruction about how much funding was misappropriated or how many people, if any, were penalised for their misconduct.

Instead, the report, posted on the office's website on Friday, basically repeated Beijing's line that three years of reconstruction, which ended last year, had been a complete success, without major corruption scandals or financial irregularities.

Analysts, saying that mainland authorities appeared keen to put behind them bitter memories of the magnitude-8 earthquake, which claimed more than 87,000 lives, called the new report a politically motivated failure to examine a long list of outstanding problems in reconstruction which have yet to be addressed.

The rebuilding process has been overshadowed by allegations of embezzlement, controversy over the construction quality of newly built homes and classrooms and the complaints of thousands of distraught parents who say they have suffered intimidation or persecution for seeking justice for their children killed when schools collapsed in the quake.

Only the issue of building quality was touched upon in the new audit report, and only briefly. It listed dozens of problems concerning the construction of 11 schools and vocational colleges in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.

Leaks and other quality problems were found in student dormitories, classrooms and the playground in a primary school in Guangyuan city, Sichuan, while students at another primary school in the quake-devastated Beichuan county were exposed to risks of electric shock because of poor design, the report said.

While many schools were hit by funding shortages in rebuilding, the report also uncovered a number of government agencies that spent extravagantly in building their offices and other vanity projects, such as gardens and squares. In Santai county, Sichuan, offices for grass-roots cadres were more than six times the size stipulated by the central government, while two township governments in Zhongjiang county, Sichuan, were found to have built squares and gardens totalling more than 10,000 square metres.

However, according to a statement, Xu Aisheng, a senior official with the National Audit Office, insisted that after having reviewed nearly 28,000 rebuilding projects with a total investment of 768 billion yuan since 2008, none of the problems exposed so far was of major public concern.

By contrast, Xu's office admitted a year ago that embezzlement and misuse of 188 million yuan had been discovered in 36 reconstruction projects, which followed another embarrassing acknowledgment in 2010 that some 5.8 billion yuan in reconstruction funds was misused.

Beijing-based political observer Hu Xingdou criticised the auditing watchdog for paying lip service to Beijing's anti-corruption drive, because of its lack of independence as a ministry under the State Council and its record of defending the government against corruption allegations.

'The rather rosy picture portrayed by the National Audit Office is apparently aimed at playing down widespread concerns over the use of rebuilding funds and the quality of schools and homes, deemed as threats to social stability,' Hu said.