Victims fear cadres padding quake losses
Quake survivors suspect officials overstating damage so they can siphon off rebuilding funds
Residents of Lushan county in Sichuan province, the epicentre of Saturday's magnitude 7 earthquake that has claimed at least 196 lives, say they are concerned about corruption after local authorities announced a high figure for economic losses that will be used as the basis for rebuilding plans.
The focus will shift from emergency relief to reconstruction after the province observes a day of public mourning today. It will begin with vehicles sounding their horns at 8.02am, the time the earthquake struck last Saturday. All public entertainment activities will be cancelled.
Direct economic losses in Lushan would amount to about 85.2 billion yuan (HK$106.2 billion), or roughly 34 times the county's economic output last year, the local government estimates.
The figure was widely criticised yesterday, with many saying that officials could not be trusted not to misuse funding meant for reconstruction. Some speculated that local officials had intentionally overestimated the losses in order to receive more compensation from Beijing.
"I don't care how much they will get from their boss, I only care how much I can get," said Song Guoyun , a 56-year-old construction worker who said his house was seriously damaged by the quake. "But because of the corruption, we ordinary people normally don't get much."
Currently, Lushan residents are receiving free bottled water, food and 10 yuan a day.
Local authorities said the loss figure was based on estimates from villages, and that most of the losses could be attributed to damaged factories and highways.
"The number has not been finalised yet. It's just an estimation," said county government spokesman Ma Yiqiang , adding that specialists from the central government were working out a more precise figure.
Many billion yuan were spent on reconstruction after the much stronger earthquake that struck Sichuan in May 2008, but the rebuilding efforts were criticised for exacerbating graft. Many low-level Communist Party officials were subsequently punished for misusing the funds.
Yang Bing , who lives in the village of Shangba, said he had only received about 1,200 yuan five years ago to repair his house, but village officials might have received more.
"The whole reconstruction plan was so opaque in the village that villagers have no idea how much money our village got from Beijing," he said. "No one can be sure how they received their compensations, or based on what rules."
Yang said local officials had only conducted a perfunctory check of the condition of his house following Saturday's disaster. "From the outside, there is very little sign that my house was damaged by the earthquake, but inside the walls have all collapsed," he said. "But the village officials just looked at the outside and said my house was only slightly damaged."
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