A 17-year-old government-funded orphanage in eastern Guangdong never took in any orphans and was instead used as a local government office and dormitory for officials, Xinhua reported yesterday.
The scandal was exposed after a public outcry triggered by an earlier report saying that local officials had "borrowed" orphans from a temple in an attempt to fool senior officials who arrived to inspect government-run orphanages in the area.
Xinhua said the Rongcheng district government in Jieyang built the five-storey orphanage 17 years ago, but used the building as a civil affairs office handling funerals, marriage registrations and disability issues, and as a staff dormitory.
More than 115 local orphans were left without proper care as a result and had to live at a Buddhist temple or with local families. Most still lacked proper household registration documents, or hukou.
The authorities have launched a campaign to inspect public and private orphanages following a fire at an illegal, private orphanage in Lankao, Henan province, in which seven children died.
When told that inspectors would be arriving, Huang Jianwei , a representative of Rongcheng's civil affairs bureau, was sent to the local Zifeng temple to borrow orphans in an attempt to cover up the misuse of the building and the government's negligence, according to footage posted online. Huang is seen in the video asking the temple's 66-year-old Buddhist master Shi Yaogai for orphans to show that the district had a functioning orphanage.
"So our bureau director sent me over to borrow a dozen orphans to present to our superiors [during inspection]," Huang said.
In response to the allegations, Huang Chenghui , the office manager of Rongcheng's civil affairs bureau, told Xinhua that Huang Jianwei was a temporary staff member. He said the office could not be held responsible for the words of a temporary staff member as "it was not true to say we do not have an orphanage".
"It's just that we have not begun a thorough investigation of the local orphan situation," Huang Chenghui told Xinhua, adding that they went to the temple to ask Shi to hand the orphans over to the government for permanent care.
However, a witness named Xia Chuhui told Xinhua that he saw the two officials asking to "borrow orphans", only to be turned down by Shi.
Late yesterday the city government suspended Huang Chenghui from duty and removed his director, state media reported. It also said it would allot three million yuan (HK$3.74 million) to restore orphanage care.
The Zifeng temple is about 10 kilometres from Jieyang's city centre and houses 31 orphans and 23 foster children.