Quake zone hit by yet another relief scandal

Another scandal hit quake reconstruction efforts in Sichuan this week, with 90 million yuan (HK$108 million) found to have been misused by a county government in Mianyang , one of the regions worst affected when the quake struck three years ago.

Mainland media reported that the state assets department in Santai county gave permission in December 2009 for the 90 million yuan from its reconstruction funds to be allocated to Hongda Company, a capital-raising platform owned by the county government. The company needed the money to show accountants that it met registered capital requirements.

A subsidiary, Hongda Land and Property Development Company, is involved in 158 reconstruction projects in Santai worth 209 million yuan, with three-quarters of the funding coming from the central government.

The misuse was first exposed by an investigative news programme on China Central Television last Saturday. An unnamed National Audit Office official said on Thursday that the 90 million yuan sat in Hongda Company's account for about 10 days, before being given to Hongda Land and Property for legal reconstruction projects.

Nevertheless, laws were broken, and four officials has been removed from their positions - Hongda's former chairman, the head of Santai's state assets bureau and two water bureau officials.

The audit official said further investigations were being carried out at the county and city level, suggesting that more officials might be implicated.


It is the county's latest scandal related to quake relief. Three officials from Santai's Jinya village were jailed for seven years in 2009 for extorting quake victims by telling them they needed to pay them in order to secure central government subsidies.

Scandals involving reconstruction efforts in Sichuan touch a raw nerve on the mainland, where man-made mistakes have been blamed for contributing to the earthquake's high death toll. People are particularly angry about shoddy construction linked to corruption, especially the 'tofu' schools that collapsed, killing thousands of students.

The authorities' reluctance to admit any fault and their efforts to clamp down on independent investigations have added to tensions.

'These people already suffered once in the earthquake. If the reconstruction is not carried out with extra caution, this could easily affect the relationship between the people and the government,' Beijing-based political commentator Professor Hu Xingdou said.


The government's own reports about reconstruction show that at least 16 officials have either broken the law or Communist Party rules in relation to 5.5 million yuan worth of projects, while irregularities have been found in dozens of other projects.

In July last year, a new block of flats for quake victims collapsed weeks ahead of its completion during heavy rain. The authorities claimed the building had been demolished after quality problems were discovered, but that failed to pacify angry locals.



The number of people who perished in the Sichuan quake

- It was the deadliest in China since Tangshan in 1976, when 240,000 died