Three water-resources officials in eastern Guangdong have exposed shoddy construction at a key embankment dam project that has seen seven major collapses in the past three years.
The Shantou city officials are Zhao Hongzhang , deputy director of the port authority in Chaoyang district; Hong Huiqiang , head of the inspection unit at the Chaoyang Water Affairs Bureau; and Ma Hefeng , Hong's deputy.
Their allegations were picked up by local media and went viral online yesterday. Since March, the trio has posted material in various online chat rooms, discussing the construction project that began in 2006 but dragged on for seven years and is estimated to have cost the local government 200 million yuan (HK$250 million) in damages.
Zhao described the unfinished embankment dam on the Rong River as a classic "tofu" project, the nickname assigned to poorly built infrastructure of dubious structural integrity. Zhao attributed the seven collapses in three years to improper strengthening of the dam's foundations during construction.
Hong also said that construction and inspections of the project were overseen by the same people at the Guangdong Water Resources Department.
"No one has been penalised for the collapses except us," Hong told the South China Morning Post. "It's unfair."
The trio was blamed for the third collapse by Shantou and Chaoyang disciplinary inspectors, who issued them with serious administrative demerits in 2011 - considered a serious party warning. They were accused of failing to stop illegal sand mining in the Rong River that could have contributed to the third collapse.
Documents posted online by the three indicate that the 33-kilometre-long embankment dam was intended to protect more than 4,100 hectares of agricultural land and 270,000 local residents, according to The Southern Metropolis Daily.
A total of 1.2 kilometres of the dam has collapsed in the seven accidents. An additional eight kilometres is considered dangerous, including three kilometres classified as extremely dangerous, Hong said.
The three men have been petitioning on their own behalf to local authorities since 2011, and are now revealing details of the project to internet users.
Hong, who is due to retire next month, said their persistence in discussing the incident was due not only because he believed they were wrongfully blamed, "but also we don't want to see 270,000 people live under the constant threat of flooding".
He said they had been threatened and pressured into abandoning their cause, but "we will not become scapegoats".
"Zhao has been beaten up and offered bribes. Many have wanted us to cave in, but we could never forgive ourselves if we did," Hong said. He added that corruption was rampant in Shantou.
Bidding for the project began in 2006, but was only 60 per cent complete by 2009, and had already cost 112 million yuan.
Another embankment dam built by the Jieyang city government on the opposite side of the Rong River had never suffered a collapse because it was built to better standards against such dangers, Hong said.