Sars expert Dr Zhong Nanshan is now engaged in another war - against the mysteriously inflated budget for Guangzhou's Asian Games - after a local official denied his claim that the city had spent more than 250 billion yuan (HK$296 billion) on the event last year.
Guangzhou Financial Bureau director Zhang Jieming was yesterday quoted as saying the operating budget for the Games was around 13.6 billion yuan and Zhong must have cited the wrong sources.
It was the first time that a Guangzhou official had revealed the budget for the Games, but Zhang said the government would not be able to provide full details of the budget and expenditure until 2013 because there was a lot of follow-up work to do, The Southern Metropolis News reported.
He had earlier put the total cost at about 130 million yuan.
Zhang said he had been forced to release the number, even though the report was not complete, because of the debate over how much Guangzhou had spent on the Games, triggered by Zhong's speech this week.
During the annual meeting of Guangzhou's People's Congress, which started on Monday, Zhong (pictured) said the city was heavily in debt after hosting the Games in November, and cited figures from his own research that showed the total investment, including related projects, was about 257 billion yuan, with the city having invested more than 195 billion yuan. 'It has brought the city more than 210 billion yuan of debt,' the Guangzhou Daily quoted him as saying.
The comments by Zhong, who blew the whistle after Beijing played down the extent of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003, fuelled a fresh debate on the Games budget, which has never been detailed by the city government.
The New Express, based in Guangzhou, quoted Zhang as saying on Wednesday that operating the Asian Games and Asian Para Games had cost the city 13.4 billion yuan - below budget - while construction projects related to the Games had cost 89 billion yuan. He said total expenditure related to the Asian Games was about 130 million yuan when other costs were included.
He said the city's revenue and expenditure relating to the Asian Games was balanced and he did not know anything about the heavy debt alleged by Zhong.
Zhong, who is also a National People's Congress deputy, declined to comment when contacted yesterday, saying he was too busy to talk. But The Southern Metropolis News quoted him as saying that he was not satisfied with Zhang's explanation and vowed to raise the issue at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, which will open in Beijing next Saturday.
Zhong said he understood that Zhang may be experiencing difficulties and his main purpose in raising the issue was to ask for more support for Guangzhou.
'Guangzhou contributes a great deal of tax to the central and provincial governments every year,' he said. 'With such heavy expenditure on the Asian Games, the city is in difficulty and the central government should give some support to it.'